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“Bundling,” skills shortages, loading of risk, creating concerns for consulting engineers at ACEC summit

"Bundling" is one of the new issues consulting engineering firms are facing, meaning the trend for municipalities to aggregate smaller projects into one package for the purpose of hiring engineers and contractors.


“Bundling” is one of the new issues consulting engineering firms are facing, meaning the trend for municipalities to aggregate smaller projects into one package for the purpose of hiring engineers and contractors.

Engineers at the ACEC Summit in Lake Louise on June 20 raised concerns about the bundling practice during a roundtable focused on the public sector.

The reason municipalities choose to bundle their projects is sometimes to attract the large P3 bidders who are not interested in small jobs but will compete for a larger aggregate of work. The problem, according to the engineers around the table, is that smaller firms who traditionally do the smaller projects are being shut out of work. “You either have all the work or none of it,” as one participant put it.

Another participant pointed out that clients are also aggregating projects by asking for a standard design to be used on multiple sites. The feeling around the table was that this was generally not a good idea.

Canada’s infrastructure deficit was also a concern. “The numbers are staggering,” said Herb Kuehne (Associated Engineering, Edmonton), who led the discussions and reported back to the conference. He pointed out that it’s estimated 2% of Canada’s GDP is lost because of poor infrastructure such as crowded and inadequate roads. We need to press on in convincing governments to undertake long-term infrastructure planning, Kuehne stressed.

Climate change and the damage it can wreak on infrastructure (very evident at that moment with floods wreaking havoc nearby) would only make the infrastructure funding needs worse. What we need is a simple change of approach, said Jody MacLeod of Prince Edward Island. He suggested that instead of basing designs on historical data, we should also look forward and design based on the predicted future needs.

Another issue identified by the public sector roundtable was a looming skills shortage — both within engineering firms, and in the ranks of their government clients. There seems to be a dearth of knowledgeable managers in the public works departments and people round the table feared it would only get worse as more baby boomers retire. Everyone agreed they much prefer to work for a knowledgeable client rather than someone not well-versed in construction issues, so the situation is of concern.

University graduates and the financial strains of training them were another topic raised, with everyone agreeing that there needs to be more dialogue with universities on what kinds of programs are caught.

A concern that came up repeatedly at the conference was the fact that consulting engineers are being pressured to take on more and more risk in their contracts with clients. Often the client’s expectations are unreasonable and possibly unenforceable it was suggested. Still some engineering companies “hold their noses” and agree to sign for fear of not getting the work. It was felt that the way to change situation was for companies to take up the issue collectively with clients who try to force more risk on them.

Public sector work has its challenges says roundtable at ACEC Summit

“Bundling” is one of the new issues consulting engineering firms are facing, meaning the trend for municipalities to aggregate smaller projects into one package for the purpose of hiring engineers and contractors.

Engineers at the ACEC Summit in Lake Louise on June 20 raised concerns about the bundling practice during a roundtable focused on the public sector.

The reason municipalities choose to bundle their projects is sometimes to attract the large P3 bidders who are not interested in small jobs but will compete for a larger aggregate of work. The problem, according to the engineers around the table, is that smaller firms who traditionally do the smaller projects are being shut out of work. “You either have all the work or none of it,” as one participant put it.

Another participant pointed out that clients are also aggregating projects by asking for a standard design to be used on multiple sites. The feeling around the table was that this was generally not a good idea.

Canada’s infrastructure deficit was also a concern. “The numbers are staggering,” said Herb Kuehne (Associated Engineering, Edmonton), who led the discussions and reported back to the conference. He pointed out that it’s estimated 2% of Canada’s GDP is lost because of poor infrastructure such as crowded and inadequate roads. We need to press on in convincing governments to undertake long-term infrastructure planning, Kuehne stressed.

Climate change and the damage it can wreak on infrastructure (very evident at that moment with floods wreaking havoc nearby) would only make the infrastructure funding needs worse. What we need is a simple change of approach, said Jody MacLeod of Prince Edward Island. He suggested that instead of basing designs on historical data, we should also look forward and design based on the predicted future needs.

Another issue identified by the public sector roundtable was a looming skills shortage — both within engineering firms, and in the ranks of their government clients. There seems to be a dearth of knowledgeable managers in the public works departments and people round the table feared it would only get worse as more baby boomers retire. Everyone agreed they much prefer to work for a knowledgeable client rather than someone not well-versed in construction issues, so the situation is of concern.

University graduates and the financial strains of training them were another topic raised, with everyone agreeing that there needs to be more dialogue with universities on what kinds of programs are caught.

A concern that came up repeatedly at the conference was the fact that consulting engineers are being pressured to take on more and more risk in their contracts with clients. Often the client’s expectations are unreasonable and possibly unenforceable it was suggested. Still some engineering companies “hold their noses” and agree to sign for fear of not getting the work. It was felt that the way to change situation was for companies to take up the issue collectively with clients who try to force engineers to take on too much risk.