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Structural Solutions: Increasing the Effectiveness of Young Structural Engineers

Admin on February 21, 2015 - in Articles, Column

Would you like to improve the effectiveness of your young structural engineers? This column will explore some ideas and ways you might be able to accomplish this.

One of the major challenges facing companies is how to teach their younger engineers while also remaining profitable on projects. While fees for structural-engineering services have improved over the last couple of years since the economic downturn, profit margins still are tight. In addition, project deadlines keep shrinking, leaving little time available to teach young engineers.

Even with these current challenges, there are ideas and suggestions on how the effectiveness of young engineers can be improved, and the following are three specific ways to help:

  • Utilize external resources
  • Create written processes and procedures that incorporate checklists
  • Formalize your plan

Utilize External Resources

Prior to the Internet, the resources available to teach young structural engineers primarily were written materials (e.g., books, journals, magazines, codes, etc.), in-person seminars or asking questions of the more-experienced engineers in the office.  The Internet has changed the amount of information available to help structural engineers, with a new format for the information.

This is a blessing and a curse: although there is a lot of good content, the volume of available information is massive and difficult to navigate. In addition, not all of the information is accurate (just read the various responses to a technical question posed on a LinkedIn Group).

There are a multitude of Web-based conferences and seminars available for education. However, if the information is not put to use within a short time, it likely will not be retained. The automotive industry’s “just in time” philosophy for delivering parts when needed is an interesting concept for how to educate young structural engineers. This means they need to quickly get access to content that will help them solve an immediate problem.

Structural engineers need so much information over the course of their careers that it is impossible to retain all of it (not to mention all the changes that happen with codes, etc.). Therefore, quickly finding a resource that will help solve specific problems/questions as they arise can be very effective.

Recorded Web seminars and videos can be extremely helpful resources in this education process. In addition, most people learn faster by watching a presentation vs. reading a textbook or journal article, thereby speeding up the learning process.

Building an “electronic library” of recordings allows companies to cost-effectively educate their engineers on an ongoing basis without any travel expense or extra time needed. There are a variety of organizations producing content, and some of it is available at no cost. By creating a library of information, companies can customize a plan to further educate engineers that works well for all parties.

Create Processes, Procedures and Checklists

One of the best ways to help young structural engineers is to have written processes or procedures for them to follow as a guide. This helps ensure that critical steps are not missed and will also speed up the learning process. Because project timelines continue to shrink, and stress levels may increase, having such checklists becomes more important to ensure that each step in the process is followed.

One of the major challenges for companies, however, is investing the time to create these processes/procedures and checklists. There are some resources available to help companies build these documents, and these resources continue to expand. It may be helpful to designate a “champion” in your office to spearhead this effort and coordinate the details.

Formalize Your Plan

Creating a document that explains what your company does to help educate staff can be helpful. The economy has improved, and the demand for hiring excellent people has increased. Potential new hires want to know what plans companies have for helping them continue to grow as a structural engineer, yet most companies do not have any formal written plan for this.

In addition, if a candidate asks multiple people from the same prospective company about this, they likely will hear different versions of what the company does. Therefore, formalizing a plan in writing will help better define the plan as well as create consistency in what is being told to potential new hires. Because most other companies don’t have a written plan, a company with one will have an advantage in hiring.

If you would like additional information on this topic, please feel free to contact the authors.

Brian Quinn, PE, is president and founder, and Lisa Willard, PE, is vice president, SE Solutions LLC, which provides the SE University program for structural engineers. For more information or to contact us, please visit www.LearnWithSEU.com.

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