Graduation is two weeks away for students in the Fall semester. The good news is that unemployment is down which means more students may find jobs. We see my students, civil engineers, nearly fully employed for the second straight semester. That is a good sign that economy is bouncing back.
Many are being hired by utilities and contractors. The utilities are starting to spend money after several years of lean revenues. Unfortunately many of these utilities were lean because their local governments have increased general fund contributions to reduce tax burdens of residents. Reducing tax burdens by moving more money from utilities to general funds hits the utility twice – infrastructure improvements get delayed and catchup on deferred maintenance mean the hit is double the pay as you go policy. It is no surprise that our infrastructure condition continues to deteriorate when funds are diverted for other purposes. Hopefully the trend will reverse, but I am not optimistic.
Contractor hiring is more interesting. It seems that contractors are having many of the same issues as utilities have talked about for a number of years: an aging workforce in the upper levels of the organization. However the contractors are seeing that young engineers have a skill set not currently existing in many contractor organizations. Contracting in lean times is a limited profit margin business. Competing for low bid contracts further limits profits. However when 40% of the cost for construction is often associated with materials, and 20-25% of materials may be wasted, finding a way to be more efficient can save a lot of money. Engineers know software and some schools, like FAU, have their students use 3 dimensional (3D) BIM software for their design projects. The BIM software allows contractors to merge drawings into 3 dimensions, finding conflicts, solving them early and identifying means to reduce materials. For example, many pieces could be cut out of gypsum board, but often only one is cut. The rest is tossed. Saving big on materials creates added profits at the same price. The benefit is seen as being well worth the cost to contractors. As more contractors move this direction, more engineers will the hired; a good trend.
The engineering profession should benefit from this change. As contractors hire engineers, there is the potential for better communication between engineers on contractor teams and design engineers. The only question is getting the engineering community to adopt the same kind of attitude toward the new software tools like 3D software. At present, far too many engineers do not believe the risks are reduced sufficiently by the costs of the software. But adopting new methods for design will help communication with contractors and other engineers. That communication has a benefit in saving dollars and limiting the potential for claims against design firms when conflicts are found in the design drawings. We find that establishing a partnering mentality on projects fosters a better working relationship. Great things can be accomplished.