Hide and seek

Aug 13, 2023

As demand for our industry’s services continues to increase, the firms that listen to their employees and evolve to meet their needs will continue to grow.

Three, two, one, ready or not, here I come. Finding civil engineers to staff growing companies in 2023 can resemble the familiar child’s game hide-and-seek. Like those children who have learned the best hiding spots in the game, qualified civil engineers who we need to meet the demands of our industry are just as hard to find.

Let’s face it, one of the most critical barriers to growth in the civil engineering consulting industry today is finding the right employment candidates with the right qualifications. The situation we find ourselves in today did not simply become critical overnight, rather this is a problem that has been brewing for many years. The departure of civil engineers from our industry during the Great Recession, and more recently during the pandemic, have just exacerbated the problem and made it even more critical.

Many civil engineers are being inundated by overtures from recruiters. “That’s why I avoid LinkedIn altogether, I don’t want to be approached by yet another headhunter looking to recruit me to the next exciting chapter of my career.” This statement, made by one of our very own civil engineers, is a great indicator of where we, as an industry, stand in 2023. And just like when the countdown begins in the game of hide-and-seek, many of the players scramble to the nearest hiding spot to avoid being “recruited” to a different civil engineering consulting firm.

Like other licensed professionals, it’s not difficult to see that civil engineers play a critical role in the development and infrastructure of our neighborhoods and cities. As the demand for infrastructure projects continues to grow, the need for highly qualified civil engineers is also on the rise. However, despite this growth and the availability of work under contract, many organizations are struggling to recruit civil engineers.

In this environment, it pays for a company to listen to what civil engineers are seeking from the companies they work for. The factors that were important to civil engineers in our industry in the past have changed. Today, we understand that many civil engineers are looking for companies that provide:

  • Opportunities for career advancement and continuing education.
  • The opportunity to make a difference in their workplace and community.
  • A sustainable work-life balance.
  • A vibrant work environment with high levels of collaboration and interesting projects.
  • Competitive compensation.

At KSA, our mission is simple: “We Build People Who Build the Future.” When we adopted that mission statement in 2018, we did not fully realize the impact it would have on our recruiting efforts in 2023. Why did we adopt this mission statement? One reason is that the leaders of KSA understood the importance of our employees’ skills and knowledge in the delivery of quality services to our clients. This understanding spurred the creation of KSA University, a fully developed, live instruction, professional development program designed to mine years of experience from our senior staff and impart that wisdom to our younger civil engineers, architects, planners, and support staff. The goal, of course, was to encourage our employees with less experience to learn from our more seasoned professionals and to expedite their career development.

We have discovered that the presence of a serious and sincere program like KSA University, dedicated completely to professional development, is one of the top recruiting tools that KSA has in our arsenal. Our employees benefit from the services of a full-time career development specialist within KSA and from five to 10 courses per semester taught by working professionals within KSA as well as industry experts outside of KSA. Courses vary from those focused on soft skills such as conflict resolution to technical skills such as how to efficiently develop a grading plan in Civil3D. We offer multi-year tracks of courses that train our employees in issues such as project management, high impact leadership, and even board of directors training that has helped us to develop a pool of potential future board members.

Another benefit we have discovered through our KSA University classes is that our employees throughout our 10 offices are becoming much more familiar with one another and more likely to develop working relationships with peers in other offices. This has helped us to develop stronger project teams that aren’t as location dependent as they once were, resulting in higher quality and more efficiently delivered services for our clients.

At KSA, we believe that as the demand for civil engineering services continues to increase, the firms that listen to their employees and evolve to meet the needs of the industry (from both an employee and client perspective) will continue to grow. Times have changed. We must retain a focus on delivering excellent and timely services to our clients, while providing the work culture and benefits that employees are looking for today. 

Mitch Fortner, P.E. is president and CEO of KSA. Contact him at mfortner@ksaeng.com.

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