AEC firms and the industry as a whole should be communicating the value we provide at every level of interaction and throughout the design process.
Licensed professional engineers tend to be humble by nature. Now more than ever, it is important to promote the engineering industry’s essential value to society. The value that AEC professionals bring to the marketplace and society has been underappreciated for far too long. The AEC industry’s services are needed to maintain the health, safety, and welfare of our communities in addition to being at the foundation of all infrastructure, transportation, and economic development projects.
Our work isn’t always about tackling the largest or most impressive projects, such as the amazing SoFi Stadium and Entertainment Complex in Inglewood, California, or the innovative Mark Basnight Bridge in North Carolina. The AEC industry also responds in times of community crisis and by providing practical economic solutions for clients during emergency situations, even when the work goes unnoticed. The expertise required to respond in these situations should not be thought of by the marketplace as a commodity!
The battle against the commoditization of engineering services and the idea that public sector, and even sometimes private sector clients, think of the services our firms provide as a product is not a new fight. However, as an industry, we have not made progress in this battle, because a lot of it comes down to how we talk about our own value, how we see our value, and how that translates into the way we structure contracts or organize how we’re going to go after business.
The delivery of professional engineering services requires lots of thought, collaboration, creativity, and imagination underpinned by specialized training coming up against sometimes very complex challenges, and meeting those challenges with very novel solutions. You can’t do that with a product or service that’s homogenized. The methodology and approach to providing engineering services are based on applicable standards of care – but the final solutions provided by the industry are all different on a case-by-case basis as required by the client!
The value that the industry brings to society should not be a taboo subject to discuss. Rather, firms and the industry as a whole should be communicating that value at every level of interaction and throughout the design process. Value is something that we need to really talk a lot more about.
For decades, the AEC industry has, from time to time, communicated the value that our industry brings to legislators, regulatory agencies, and the public during advocacy efforts. However, the value that is brought by the industry warrants a campaign of its own so that it translates into the way contracts are structured and how business is pursued. According to a study conducted by the American Council of Engineering Companies Research Institute, only five-and-a-half cents of every construction dollar goes to engineering and design services, even though these services are felt throughout the lifecycle of a project. As an industry, fees for professional engineering services should be increased consistent with the increase of cost of doing business appreciated by other marketplace participants as well as the cost of innovation. Unlike commodities, engineering fees do not follow normal and customary inflationary trajectories. But beyond an increase of fees as a means of communicating value, we need to understand the implications for the present and future of the industry.
How to communicate the value of engineering. How can you share about the value of engineering? Talk about it. From videos, social media, and podcasts to proposals and reports, answer the question “Why does this matter?” for the audience. If you can identify the piece of the puzzle that your team played to create social good, bring jobs to the community, and the overall impact of the project, share about it. The value provided by your sustainable and innovative design should be articulated. What are the tangible impacts at the local level that you can point to because of a design that your firm undertook and produced? What effect did the project have on the local community? What’s the value/social good? Use the passion you have for your work to your advantage and communicate what role you, your firm, and the engineering industry played in the overall project. You should talk about how your work on public projects saved money for the taxpayers or how your work saved time and money for private clients. Without the industry’s voice, the value provided goes unnoticed.
For example, a recent multi-state industry event in Charleston, South Carolina, focused on the global importance of ports and how they connect communities and commerce. Traditionally, many people do not consider how important the reliability of port infrastructure and interconnected transportation networks are, and how the connectivity from ports to inland ports via rail, bridges, and the safe crossing of intersections have on how commerce flows. Without that flowing of commerce made possible by the AEC industry, the marketplace would not function. Without solutions designed by our industry, supply chains would be broken and would stop. When you share about the value that professional services bring in making the world a better place, that is one way to become top of mind with key public, private, and legislative marketplace stakeholders – including current and future stakeholders in the STEM space.
Fight for talent. Many well documented factors have led to a fight for talent throughout the AEC industry. And now more than ever, the fight for talent is even more intense and complex. It is known that Gen Z wants to make an impact in the world, however, many may not realize the impact that licensed professional engineers provide. Unless the AEC industry communicates the value it brings, future stakeholders will not be aware of it as a rewarding and fulfilling career option.
From improving communities through sustainable and resilient design, to breaking down barriers that allow communities to better integrate and designing safe mobility solutions for people who may not have them – there are so many rewarding examples of delivering value that may resonate to future industry participants. In addition to the impact that an individual can make via this industry, it is also key that the workforce is diverse. The engineering industry is made up of a very diverse group of individuals from different geographic regions and educational backgrounds, and the diversity of thought and experience provides more opportunities to problem solve in unique ways. Communicating the impact engineers make, diversity, as well as increased compensation, will help in attracting talent to the industry.
If you want to have your voice heard, if you want your life’s work to be meaningful and impactful, engineering is the place for it. So, instead of being humble regarding the discussion of the value that the AEC industry brings to the marketplace, be bold, take action, and be an advocate for the industry by communicating the value that the industry brings.
Derek Clyburn, P.E. is the president of ECS Southeast, LLP part of the ECS Group of Companies. He can be reached at email@example.com.