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Young engineers at national forum explain pressures of work

Young Professionals made up a large contingent at the ACEC Annual Summit in Montebello, Quebec held June 22-26.


Young Professionals made up a large contingent at the ACEC Annual Summit in Montebello, Quebec held June 22-26.

While the consulting engineering associations in provinces such as Quebec and Ontario are just starting to roll with their Young Professionals (YP) groups, others in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. have been meeting for around five years.

On the afternoon of Friday, June 24 at the ACEC summit, representatives of each of the YP groups reported at a YP National Forum, with Simon Davidson of Quebec moderating.

All the groups are following a similar pattern, holding a mix of social and educational events. Kevin Shea of Calgary, for example, reported that last year the Consulting Engineers of Alberta groups held an educational building tour, as well as a golf tournament and a curling bonspiel. Alberta has three groups:  Calgary, Edmonton, and one that just started in Red Deer last year. The groups each meet once a month, sometimes simply gathering informally in a pub.

Geoff Sarazin, representing the Consulting Engineers of Saskatchewan YPs, said they too hold networking and educational events. One memorable session was on charge-out rates where the young professionals discovered what went into charge-out rates. He said some had been wondering why the rates had to be so high until they learned that they had to include overheads such as insurance costs.

The ACEC national forum was fairly informal, and over the course of the presentations individuals aired some of the pressures that young professionals are experiencing in their work. One person observed that in their company there was a large age gap, with seniors and young professionals, and “not a lot of people in the mid-age bracket.” As a result, they felt that young professionals are taking on more responsibility for projects than they are sometimes comfortable with.

A struggle they face as YP groups is keeping their momentum in finding volunteers and people to take part. While they started off as an enthusiastic group of committed people, they explained that some of these individuals now want to step back. For young people, especially those with young children, it’s difficult to fit in time as they juggle families and work commitments.

One YP group said that it was difficult at the social networking events to get people to mix with people from other firms. Another challenge is keeping meetings to one hour. You need an agenda and someone to take charge of the meeting, it was agreed.

The groups have also been finding it a challenge to communicate with potential members and recruit more attendees.  They have been relying on senior people at the consulting engineering firms, but the e-mails are not always “filtering down.”

The young professionals at the meeting also observed that the groups tend to be dominated by civil engineers, and also that have a large representation of females — about 40% in one group. That ratio is not reflected in the staff make-up of the firms, they observed.

The Manitoba Young Professionals Group is one of the most established and busy. It holds alternate education and social events like baseball, pub nights and breakfast seminars. They have an annual dinner that is “a great success.” The Manitoba group, which was led until recently by Beth Phillips, also runs a mentorship program and has a student chapter at the University of Manitoba. The YP group issues a monthly newsletter that goes to all the Winnipeg consulting engineering firms. Last year they had a tour of the Manitoba Hydro Building, and a “very engaging” talk by John Boyd on sustainability.

The AICQ Young Professionals Group in Quebec began last year and had approximately 60 people attend one of its first events, a lunch in Montreal last spring.

Groups that are geographically dispersed in different towns have been holding meetings by conference call, but they felt that these kinds of audio-only meetings were not as successful as when they have been able to use a consulting engineering company’s video-conferencing facilities. They found that video conferencing was much better at keeping people focused on topic, and almost as good as a face-to-face get together.

To see Part I of a Young Professionals Forum  published in Canadian Consulting Engineer’s December 2010 issue, click here.   To see Part 2, “Attracting the Best”, published in January-February 2011, click here