Canadian Consulting Engineer

Untapped Talent

When teaching engineering professionalism at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) or other universities, I observe that students normally have little knowledge of consulting engine...

June 1, 2007   By Marc A. Rosen, Ph.D., P.Eng.

When teaching engineering professionalism at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) or other universities, I observe that students normally have little knowledge of consulting engineering. A distinct lack of awareness exists despite the fact that consulting engineers are responsible for numerous outstanding engineering achievements, most of which appeal greatly to the dreams and idealism of students. Often, I find this lack of awareness hard to fathom.

Consulting engineering is indeed responsible for many impressive engineering accomplishments. I observed this first hand as a member of the jury for the Canadian Consulting Engineering Awards in 2005, and as chair of the awards jury in 2006. From buildings and bridges, to energy and environmental projects, in urban centres or remote locations, the achievements of consulting engineers are often inspiring and sometimes staggering in their scope and complexity.

To achieve great feats and be competitive, consulting engineering firms rely on a supply of competent engineers from all disciplines. A natural source of such talent is engineering students and graduates. Yet consulting engineering companies usually do not hire engineering students or new graduates, often preferring to wait until individuals have several years of experience. Of course, some firms do hire students and new graduates, but they are in the distinct minority based on my experience and observations of job postings. At UOIT, for example, the percentage of engineering co-op and internship students working in consulting engineering companies is well under five per cent.

By offering few engineering co-op and internship placements for inexperienced graduates, consulting engineering companies forego the chance to entice students and graduates to enter the consulting industry and to train them for that career path. Significant problems result:

* Students obtain little knowledge of consulting engineering and do not see it as a career option or even know of employment opportunities in the consulting engineering industry.

* Consulting engineering firms sometimes claim they cannot find in Canada well trained engineers who are interested in and educated for consulting engineering. They say they have to seek such talent abroad. In many cases, they blame the Canadian education system.

I recognize many of the reasons why consulting engineering companies recruit as they do. They feel they cannot remain competitive when inexperienced engineers are hired. Also they seek excellent soft skills in business and management, which are very important in consulting but often only are developed through on-the-job training. Yet I feel that the best way to recruit for companies who are in business for the long term is to tap into talent early. Universities like UOIT and McMaster have tried to address business skills by creating engineering and management programs to enhance the soft skills of engineering students and graduates.

Fortunately, there are some indications of change and a recognition of the need for it.

The Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) made a presentation in 2004 to the National Council of Deans of Engineering and Applied Science (NCDEAS), of which I am a member, proposing to develop educational materials to make engineering students more aware of consulting engineering.

Rejean Breton, ing., chair of ACEC, wrote an article that appeared in Canadian Consulting Engineer’s October-November 2006 issue (p. 13) recognizing the need to reach out to our youth and committing to do so. This point was reiterated at a meeting of the Canadian Engineering Leadership Forum held November 9, 2006 in Ottawa, which I attended as president-elect of the Engineering Institute of Canada (EIC). The Canadian Engineering Leadership Forum is a group of six engineering institutions assembled to discuss the future of engineering in Canada and to advance the engineering profession in Canada. It includes EIC, ACEC, NCDEAS, the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students.

But I feel more is needed. Consequently, I call on the consulting engineering industry to:

* Step up and help with training and education by hiring many co-op and internship engineering students and new graduates. Don’t rely on others to do this by waiting for engineering graduates to attain five years of experience.

* Help raise awareness in engineering students of the opportunities in consulting engineering and in that way peak their interest.

* Take advantage of the great accomplishments of consulting engineers to promote engineering broadly as an exciting and wonderful career path for youth.

Through such measures, the consulting engineering industry can help prepare the workforce it needs for decades to come and will keep inspiring everyone with impressive achievements.

Marc A. Rosen, Ph.D., P.Eng. is president-elect of the Engineering Institute of Canada and professor and dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, e-mail: marc.rosen@uoit.ca


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