As we enter the 4th Quarter of 2023, we know that our member firms are beginning to discuss their strategic plans for the new year. Most of the members I’ve talked to in the last couple of months have shared the same opinion of 2023; “This will go down as one of the best years in our firm’s history, but we’re concerned about staff morale. We’ve all had to do more with less this year due to the talent shortage in our industry.”
Staffing issues are not a new problem for our profession. I vividly remember lectures I attended at the University of South Florida, where the professors would warn about the expected talent shortage in the engineering community as the baby boomer generation started to retire. The professors would say that once we graduated and entered the industry, it would become our responsibility to help promote engineering to the next generation to mitigate this crisis.
That responsibility is as true today as it was 25 years ago, as our industry is scrambling to supplement the workforce to minimize the current talent shortage. K-12 STEM education has been one of our most successful initiatives, as it teaches children about the importance of the designed world around them and the various careers available to them in the engineering industry. ACEC Florida and FES are focused on this goal by providing engineering scholarships, hosting MATHCOUNTS events, and assisting with other K-12 outreach programs. In addition, many of our Member Firms are also heavily involved with K-12 outreach and support by providing staff to judge local science fairs, participating in high school presentations about engineering, and providing financial support to K-12 STEM programs. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) also leads this initiative by supporting and hosting District-by-District Construction Career Days (CCD) events. These 2-3 day events are held across the State of Florida. They are focused on teaching 9th-12th grade students about the various essential professions available to them in the engineering and construction industry. ACEC Florida has been an integral sponsor in the CCD initiative, as our Board voted at our last meeting to make ACEC Florida’s significant donation to CCD events around the state a permanent item in our budget to ensure the events have the funding they need. There are three upcoming CCD events this month that I encourage you to support: Tampa Bay CCD Golf Tournament on October 20th, South Florida CCD on October 24th and 25th, and Northwest Florida CCD Golf Tournament on October 27th.
Our industry is already seeing success with these programs, but we all agree that we need to do more. One idea being widely utilized by engineering firms throughout the state is creating a student internship program within the firm. I have seen that this usually starts with a firm hiring one or two undergraduate-level civil engineering students to work at their firm part-time. These students assist the design groups with CADD work or report preparation, and often, these students are hired by the firm post-graduation.
While this is a great way to develop a talent pipeline within your firm, I want to encourage our member firms to think even more outside the box. A couple of years ago, we started a new program at EGS that is beginning to show real signs of success. Our firm has always had a robust junior and senior-level student internship program in each office. However, we recently began hiring several hard-working first and second-year college students who still need to get on a civil engineering track. Some students are working on their Associate of Arts (AA) Degree in Community College or are still deciding which major they want to focus on. The only entrance requirements for the position are that the employee is a hard worker, highly proficient in math, and remains open to working in the engineering industry post-graduation. Throughout their employment, we routinely ask these interns whether they are still interested in a career in the engineering industry. If they answer yes and begin to take engineering courses accordingly, they can remain in the program throughout their college career.
The goal of our firm’s program is two-fold. We wanted to extend the length of our internships from 1-2 years to 3-4 years to provide more extensive training for our prospective future staff. In addition, we want to recruit prospective students to our firm who may not have been considering a career in engineering before the internship. Not only will this benefit the industry by providing more talent, but we have also found that the employees of this new program have a longer retention rate than traditional employees, as they are more loyal to the firm, mainly due to the career guidance we provided them during college. I am happy to report that in the five years since we’ve started this initiative, we already have 5+ student interns graduating with a degree in civil engineering, who otherwise would likely not have.
It will take years for our industry to fill this talent shortage, but we are making some serious progress. Our industry must answer the call, and we will. Each of us must be willing to embrace new ideas and initiatives, share our successes and failures with colleagues, and work together to build this industry for the next generation.
The American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida is the voice of Florida’s engineering industry, representing more than 350 consulting engineering companies, specializing in all disciplines in seven regions throughout Florida.
American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida 125 S. Gadsden St., #100 Tallahassee, FL 32301