Planning for the future of engineering

Is your firm ready to lose 20% of its key engineers? My guess is no.


I’ve been thinking about retirement a lot lately. For those of you who know me (or who can guess from seeing my photo), I’m nowhere near retirement. But still, I think about it. How will I transition to a new portion of my life? How will I continue to give back to the building and engineering community through volunteer options? Where will I live? Can I even afford to retire?


The questions my colleagues at work should be asking might be more important: How will we replace the knowledge and abilities of a seasoned employee? How do we ensure a smooth transition from one person to the next? Where do we find young, skilled employees to move up quickly through the ranks?


These are all questions that firms across the nation—including engineering firms like yours—are asking as baby boomers age and move into the next stage of their careers (or non-careers). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 marks the first year that baby boomers are eligible for Social Security, Medicare, and other perks. There are more than 77 million baby boomers in the United States, and by 2030 this demographic (born from 1946 to 1964) will represent an estimated 20% of the population.


Taking these numbers into account, is your firm ready to lose 20% of its key engineers? My guess is no. Action is required from both sides of the equation: the soon-to-be-retired and the still-climbing-the-ladder.


We’ll start with the seasoned engineer. You hold all the knowledge, and much like being a medical doctor, the pressure is on you to ensure the younger generation “does no harm” and engineer each building or system properly. 


The first thing you can do is mentor a few younger engineers. Take them under your wing and out on client visits. Ensure they can actually do the work, not just follow your lead. Invest in the recommendations in our Career Smart column, and ensure that your younger staff is ready—not just for the engineering challenges, but for the general, communication, business development, and people skills they’ll need in the future.


For the younger audience, connect with some of the more senior members of your team—on all levels. Ensure they’re aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and can help guide you both personally and professionally. You’re still busy learning and climbing the corporate ladder, but take time out of your day to ensure you’ve connected both in person and online. The Consulting-Specifying Engineer LinkedIn group is pretty active, and can be a good source of ideas. We also host an Engineering Education Center to help you enhance your technical and soft skills.


In addition to online resources, Consulting-Specifying Engineer is working on an in-person event to help everyone hone these soft skills. If your firm has a mentor matching program or a well-mapped succession plan, I’d like to hear from you.


And finally, as we all prepare for retirement, remember that many of the people you work with and for will become lifelong friends and colleagues. I know that I’ll continue to run into mentors and previous coworkers throughout my working career and in retirement. It’s important to keep these people close.  

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