Canadian Consulting Engineer

Consulting engineering is an exciting career

In any professional business the skill and intellectual capacities of the employees are the lifeblood of the enterprise. It is the people who work for the firm who give it value and a future....

December 1, 2005   By Bronwen Parsons

In any professional business the skill and intellectual capacities of the employees are the lifeblood of the enterprise. It is the people who work for the firm who give it value and a future.

The point was brought home to me by Paul Ruffell, P.Eng., president of EBA consulting engineers, when I interviewed him for the story on graduate engineers (page 28). Ruffell feels strongly that consulting firms must attract the very brightest and best from engineering schools in order to be able to advise clients. A consultant is a consultant precisely because he or she can provide the client with superior and expert knowledge.

The problem is how to attract the cream of the crop of graduates. Other industries can offer them more regular hours, less travel, more money.

Yet consulting still has a great deal to offer as a career option. First, a lot of young people are ethically driven and very concerned about the environment. Consulting gives them an avenue to live out those ideals. One young mechanical engineering student I spoke to originally meant to go into manufacturing but she has switched course because she’s no longer interested in making “consumer objects” such as automobiles. Now she wants to work for consultants in order to do green design for buildings.

Second, young people love to travel. Few careers offer so much opportunity to work in the most exotic and far-flung places on earth. Canadian consulting engineering firms are highly involved in international work and many of their assignments are in developing countries. In the last issue, for example, one award-winning project involved Canadian experts going to Costa Rica and El Salvador to share their knowledge of dam failures with the local engineers.

Third and very important: consulting offers variety. No two projects or clients are the same, so consultants are constantly kept on their toes and are intellectually challenged. Ruffell uses this diverse work experience as a recruiting tool to tempt students at least to try out the business: “If you give us two years, we will give you a resume that you will kill for,” he tells graduates.

The universities, through programs like Capstone, have been working hard to prepare students better for applying their knowledge in practical ways in the working world. Also, today the engineering schools all require graduates to have some kind of working experience. The students apparently love to find placements with consulting engineers because they provide such a rich experience, but there are far more students looking for internships than there are firms offering them.

Consulting engineers are starving for intermediate level engineers at the moment and the prospects for the future aren’t bright unless more young people are brought into the firms. The Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada is taking steps to raise the profile of consulting engineers on campuses in order to attract the talent that will help the industry survive. Another vital step is for consulting engineering firms to use more students as interns on short-term placements, giving the young people exposure to the industry, while giving consulting engineering a tap into the vital intellectual resources it is going to need.


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