When well-trained staff are equipped with the skills needed to do their jobs well, everyone will reap the benefits.
At Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering, we know the importance of developing staff in a tight talent market. With the demographics of the AEC industry today, there’s a lot of baby boomers and millennials, but not as many Gen Xers to step into leadership roles.
Keeping that pipeline of staff with leadership abilities is the responsibility of firm managers. This professional development is an investment for long-term sustainability, and it’s critical to embrace young engineers and strive to keep them on a growth track.
Admittedly, it’s not easy and it doesn’t come with a written manual. But with the unemployment rate so low in the engineering field today, we know we must grow our firm from the inside and focus on individualized mentoring.
Mentoring, coaching, and challenging staff with authentic real-world experience are keys to successful training. Sharing institutional knowledge with them is extremely important. The goal is to make them better than you are.
For nearly three decades, F&V has readily acknowledged that our employees are our greatest asset. We invest in staff, even if it increases the risk of losing them, because investing in training increases employee loyalty and retention.
Although engineering graduates today have grown up with personal computers and are tech-savvy, the challenge is getting engineers-in-training involved in meaningful work from day one without throwing too much at them too soon.
The training and development process, which never ends, focuses on new tasks and skills that they can try out in a controlled environment – much like learning to walk before you run.
But the key to training is for project managers to give young engineers the knowledge, skill sets, and enough latitude to take ownership and work through the design or problem using their abilities. Project managers must also be careful not to give them too much responsibility before they are ready, or throw them into projects without the proper skills and burn them out.
Throughout the training process, the leadership team is readily available to answer questions, so staff know what exactly is required of them. We like challenging many of our younger staff and instill in them the scary but exhilarating feeling that the buck stops with them.
Given an opportunity and the support to take a leap, many engineers surprise themselves with their ability to execute on hard problems.
It may seem like a time-consuming task but delegating and answering questions has proven invaluable. It makes your firm more efficient because you have knowledgeable senior staff who can train the younger staff.
An associate and a process engineer at F&V explained how he grew within five years at the firm.
“I was given the opportunity and freedom to run projects and make decisions with F&V giving me the confidence,” he said. “F&V always gave me the support and guidance to deliver successful projects. Now I am looking forward to working with younger staff and helping them gain the valuable experience that I was able to receive as a young engineer.”
Staff who receive ongoing training and development opportunities feel valued and are usually happier with their progression. We believe it’s led to higher levels of employee retention, engagement, and morale.
F&V does not have a rigid mentoring program because not all engineers are alike. Younger staff see firsthand how experienced project managers interact with clients, owners, contractors, and operators. They also see and learn how to effectively communicate with stakeholders.
Striking a balance between the technical training and the human side is also encouraged because everyone interacts with others daily. Stressing skills like conflict resolution, time management, networking, and active listening during training is critical because younger staff need to convey their ideas to colleagues, leaders, and ultimately, clients.
With the recent pandemic issues, in-person training proved to be most challenging. But with constant feedback from staff, we were able to continue training throughout the pandemic utilizing various tools and technology.
Like many firms, we rely on “SMART” goals to monitor our training. The goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound. There are annual reviews and quarterly check-ins to see how everyone is faring. Continuous improvement and feedback are vital.
At Fleis & VandenBrink, we believe in the old and familiar adage of billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
If you don’t train employees in a tight talent market, your firm cannot grow and realize its full potential. You may also lose more than one valuable resource.
Our secret ingredient is not that secret! We train employees to become supervisors which allows more growth for all staff. When well-trained staff are equipped with the skills needed to do their jobs well, everyone will reap the benefits.
David Harvey, P.E., is a senior project manager for the Process Group at Fleis & VandenBrink. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.