This week’s post features an interview I did with Matt Barcus, Managing Partner with A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com. His complete profile appears at the end of this post.
Babette: As a recruiter for the civil engineering job market, what’s your perception on how the economy has displaced civil engineers as a whole, regardless of generation and longevity with their current company?’
Matt: This economy has really brought civil engineering down to a new low. Many companies have experienced multiple rounds of layoffs, mainly in the specialized areas of land development and transportation. With the real estate market in its tumultuous state, building has come to a near standstill, especially in the residential market. So those engineers who have made a career of designing subdivisions and master planned communities are left fighting for their lives for any new projects that do become available.
As you are aware, the ASCE Report Card handed down a grade of “D-“ in regards to the state of our country’s roads and highways. There is MUCH work to be done, but state DOT’s across the country are having a funding crisis and the stimulus funding from the federal government to help fund these projects is slow in its trickle down. Because of this, many highway and transportation engineers are feeling the pressure and fighting for any piece of work they can get. The firms suffering the most are those that had all their eggs in one basket (i.e. land developers or transportation). The toughest regions hit seem to be FL, VA, CA, NV, AZ and GA.
Babette: Some of the companies typically have an “accordion” structure: they traditionally ramp up or down depending on workload. Is the impact of the economy changing the dynamics of even this traditional expansion-contraction structure of support personnel?
Matt: To some extent. Where you traditionally see this “accordion” structure is in the construction industry – more so than in civil engineering. Traditionally, civil engineering is a very conservative industry, so their ramp up/ ramp down mentality is not at the same level as the construction industry. That said, many firms of course did experience some tremendous growth during the boom years, and all they saw were dollar signs which led them to staff up significantly which blinded them to the long term impact. The economy was so great and the civil engineering industry was so robust really that it was hard to see this far ahead. Actually, if anyone was paying attention they could have seen this coming, but everyone was so buried with work that they never looked up. The firms who are surviving and still thriving in this economy are those who had effective and well thought out long term strategic plans already in place.
Babette: What are three recommendations you would give current civil engineering students who will be graduating in 2010 and looking for jobs?
- Don’t become discouraged with this economy – continue to follow your passion of civil engineering and be patient. Before long, we will begin to see a long term rebound and the industry will be much better prepared come the next recessionary cycle.
- As an engineer, we know you are very technically oriented, that is a given. But focus on your social and sales and marketing skills. Take courses, attend seminars and read books on sales and marketing. Your ability to understand the marketing and business development component of becoming a consulting civil engineer will have both an immediate and long term impact on your career.
- Find an internship during your undergraduate years with a civil engineering company or within a governmental agency. Any pre-graduation experience you can put on your resume will help you stand out from those who were just waiting tables.
Babette: What are three recommendations you would give to established civil engineers, Gen Y or even Boomers, who find themselves looking for jobs?
- Work your network. Past co-workers, clients, and fellow association members are great places to start.
- Be proactive. Don’t just submit your resume to an online ad and sit back and wait. Find out who the hiring manager is, call them and introduce yourself and let them know you have recently applied, that you are interested in exploring their advertised opportunity and offer to send your resume directly to them. Then be sure to follow up.
- Be prepared not only with a chronological resume with dates of employments, titles and duties, but make sure you take a step back and compile a detailed list of some of the more significant jobs you have worked on during the course of your career and what your specific role was on those projects. Don’t be afraid to invest in a professional resume writer either.
Babette: What appears to be the biggest “gap” in skill set for today’s civil engineers, regardless of generation?
Matt:The ability to effectively be involved in sales, marketing and business development.
Babette: Overall, what is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Matt: As a search consultant to the civil engineering industry, the most rewarding aspect of my job is successfully filling a difficult search that a client has thrown up their arms on. When they have utilized all of their resources but have come up empty, we are able to use our network and search skills to bring to the table the highly qualified candidates that will help take their division or their company to the next level.
About Matt Barcus:
Matt Barcus is a managing Partner with A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com. CivilEngineeringCentral is a niche job board, resume database and blog catering exclusively to the civil engineering industry.