Young Professionals Forum II, Attracting the Best
KRISTEL UNTERSCHULTZ, P.ENG.
Kristel is with Urban Systems in Edmonton and has been engaged in consulting engineering since 2005. She currently represents the Edmonton Young Professionals Group on the board of Consulting Engineers of Alberta.
JAMES KAY, P.ENG.
James is with Aplin & Martin Consultants in its Kelowna, B.C. office. He has been part of the Consulting Engineers of British Columbia Young Professionals Group since its inception in 2006 and is the immediate past chair. He is also a recipient of the CEBC Young Consulting Engineer Award.
BRAD ROBINSON, P.ENG.
Brad has been working in the consulting engineering industry for most of his career. Together with an associate, he recently started ARC Engineering, a mechanical engineering/LEED consulting firm located in Grimsby, Ontario.
ALEX EYQUEM, CEng, MICE
Alex is the engineering director for the rail division of AECOM in Montreal. He is a former president of the FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers) Young Professional Group, and helped the Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ) launch a similar group.
GEOFF SARAZIN, P.ENG.
Geoff is a structural engineer in Associated Engineering’s Regina office. He is the current chair of the Young Professionals Group for the Consulting Engineers of Saskatchewan.
KIMBERLY MOWAT, P.ENG.
Kimberly is an associate shareholder at R.V. Anderson & Associates in Toronto. She received the 2010 ACEC-Canada Allen D. Williams Scholarship which is given to young professionals in consulting engineering.
This is the second part of an online discussion
held late last year by Canadian Consulting Engineer between six young professionals from across the country. Part I appeared in December 2010, starting on page 26. Readers are invited to join the conversation by posting comments to the article at www.canadianconsultingengineer.com. Click on “Print Edition” to navigate to the story.
Everyone is also invited to join the CCEYoungProfessionals Group at www.linkedin.com
Q. If you were head of a consulting engineering company, what would you do to make sure you attracted the most talented and valuable young professionals to work at your firm?
– As a representative for young professionals, I’ve been asked this question before and it surprises me that senior executives seem to put so much energy into trying to figure out “how to attract young talent.” I don’t think young people are all that different than established professionals with respect to what they are seeking. Generally, everyone wants a few key elements:
1. Good compensation and benefit package. More than being just about money, this is one of the key ways that employers demonstrate to employees that they are valued.
2. Pride. Everyone wants to be proud of what they do and where they work. This can translate to working for respected clients on interesting or high profile jobs. This can also translate to working for a company that is known for high quality work or giving back to the community.
3. Support to develop skills, try new things and explore passions. This is a biggie and I think it is sometimes overlooked by employers in the rush to compete on salaries or perks.
4. Sense of belonging and solid team dynamic. Everyone wants to have fun and liking the people you work with is a HUGE part of that. I love what I do a good 90% of the time, but at the end of the day it is honestly the people I work with who make or break my day. We feed off each other’s energy, laugh a lot and ultimately work together to create something pretty special.
5. Work-life balance. I almost hate using this phrase because it’s become such a buzz word. I’ve also encountered some negativity from senior execs with the impression that young people aren’t willing to “work as hard as they did in their day.” However, without wading into it too deeply, I will say that young people are willing to work hard. They will work even harder for employers who offer them flexibility to support the other priorities in their lives.
– The challenge in attracting and retaining talented and valuable young professionals seems to be remembering what it is that YPs are looking for in their careers. In recruiting YPs I’m always honest and forthcoming. I share with them the exciting and innovative components of their future with our firm, but also the specifics of an average day. I outline for them what they can expect in their future with us, and what their career path and progression might look like.
Attracting and retaining talent is one of the biggest challenges facing our firm. We go out to universities to industry nights, career fairs, guest lectures, and student council events. We comb through alumni postings. We meet with candidates several times, and challenge them with different people, different situations, different questions. Part of remembering what’s important to young professionals is remembering what little we knew about the industry when we graduated. Without co-op or relevant work experience, it’s hard for young professionals to differentiate consulting from municipal work, contracting, utilities, or sales.
– I have always felt that having the possibility to move up within a company is important. There should be a defined path so that an individual can set a goal, for example to become an associate or partner. I’m sure there have been times in everyone’s career where you ask “Is this it?” Engineers do what we do because of the challenge, not only for the particular project we are working on, but also for the challenge of, “Where can we go next?” Mentorship is also another key issue.
To really attract young professionals, you also have to have the ability to keep older, more seasoned individuals who are willing to pass along their knowledge. I have seen companies who have focused too much on young people to the detriment of the business.
The environment in which people work is important, especially in the long run. You need to provide people with an environment that fosters creativity and teamwork, and a sense of belonging. Of course the above only works if you can hire the right person to begin with. I work in the Niagara Region. The challenge has always been finding the right people as the bulk of the consultants are, of course, based in Toronto. I have no magical answer to this problem. I try to stay involved in groups in my area, such as the local chapter of the Professional Engineers of Ontario. This helps to build up a good contact list that we can draw on when the need arises.
– Answering this question is a tall order. As a company, when you want to attract new employees it is important to stay focused on providing the basic needs of the individual such as salary, support, a nice place to work, a new challenge, etc.
However, young professionals may not have any reference to base their decision on. How do they assess their worth from a salary point of view? More than likely by what their friends are getting. But what about assessing what is a good environment to work in? What is a good project?
The reputation of the firm is one of the main factors that a young professional is going to l
ook for. Their knowledge of the industry may be limited, and they will go with someone they have heard about. It doesn’t mean necessarily a big company; it can be a small company that is proactive in the public eye or with academia.
Also, I would preferably hire a group of young professionals at the same time to create a group dynamic. I remember a few of us starting at a company at the same time, and it was a lot easier to get motivated. I formed a strong bond with people whom I still keep in touch with to this day.
Finally, I would make sure that my company leads the way in transforming the industry by getting involved with professional associations and partnering with a university. Young professionals would then feel that your company is not only in the industry, but also is right in the centre of it, a company that can inspire and lead.
– Along with having mentors, and a good mix of senior and intermediate employees, it is important for the prospective employee to be shown what kind of position they might hold in five years or 10 years.
The work-life balance is such an overused expression. Yet a good number of young professionals today have seen too many people who solely concentrate on their jobs and neglect other aspects of their lives. Young professionals do not want to follow this path.
It is going to be an uphill battle to hire the “best and brightest” if you cannot compete with government jobs in terms of wages, hours, vacation time, benefits, etc. There are always exceptions to this, but I think an owner of a consulting company has to start thinking that a 60-hour work week is an exception as opposed to the standard if they want to hire the very best.
– Before recruiting young professionals, you have to understand what they value, and also understand that this will change over time. The next generation may not have the same values and motivators as the current young professionals, so you have to keep up to date. Use existing young employees as a resource.
From my experiences, when young professionals are first starting out in their careers, they are not focused on compensation and perks. They tend to place higher value on learning, training, development and mentoring.
I agree with the other panelists in that work/life balance should not be a bad word. We know that overtime is expected in this industry, but most young professionals do not want to spend every evening and weekend in the office. It can be demoralizing to see examples of this and to think that is the only way you can be successful.
Mentoring is especially important in the first few years. A company has to be willing to invest in their young professionals to get the most out of them. cce