A giant pressure cooker

The tension has been bubbling in the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering fields for some time now, and it’s causing changes in how these firms do business.


Based on several conversations I’ve had with readers, a pressure cooker is about to go off in the engineering community. The tension has been bubbling in the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering fields for some time now, and it’s causing changes in how these firms do business.

For one, firms are busier. They’re fielding more requests for proposals, and the proposals that were on hold are starting to take off as money is released. The biggest problem: Firms still aren’t hiring. Engineers are being pushed to the limit, and are working 60-, 70-, and 80-hour weeks. Firms that are hiring are being very selective—they are cherry-picking the best talent.

Some firms are hiring entry-level engineers (or engineers in training) because they have smaller starting salaries. Though the long-term payback is high on engineers that you can mold to fit your company’s needs, these young engineers need mentoring and guidance in their first few years on the job, which can cost the more seasoned engineers time and energy. Mentoring is just one small piece of the puzzle; quite a few other pieces will be discussed at the Career Smart Engineers Conference Oct. 12 to 13 in Chicago. I encourage you to join us to help push your firm to the next level of business and communications.

Despite this human resources pressure, many engineering firms are excelling. We’ve ranked the top firms based on MEP design revenue in the annual 2011 MEP Giants report. In a series of articles, we explain how they are reacting to the market and other challenges. The No. 1 challenge: The economy’s impact on the construction market. No 2: Evolving information technologies for design or project management. As you might expect, there have been a lot of mergers and acquisitions this year, which Mick Morrissey discusses on page 36. (Spoiler alert: One-fifth of the MEP Giants were either acquired or merged in the past year. Talk about pressure!)

Another interesting trend gleaned from the 2011 MEP Giants data: new construction and retrofits are neck-and-neck in revenue (each came in at 41%). In 2010 it was also close: 32% new construction revenue and 30% retrofit revenue. In 2009, new construction was ahead at 45%; retrofits were at 38%. In 2008, new construction was ahead at 45%, and retrofits lagged at 32%. This shows that since the recession started in 2008, pressure to do more retrofits is increasing, and the percentage of new construction projects has remained relatively flat.

Please send me a note at arozgus@cfemedia.com. I’d like to hear about your work pressures, and how they’re pushing you to work differently.

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