/ Articles / ReEngineering the Engineer: Make Time for Knowledge and Experience Transfer

ReEngineering the Engineer: Make Time for Knowledge and Experience Transfer

Douglas Fitzpatrick on June 5, 2023 - in Articles, Column

One of the more-difficult tasks for me (personally as a business owner) is hiring new staff. It doesn’t matter if it’s an admin, CAD/BIM support or an engineer; I find hiring stressful. Most candidates I talk to still are gainfully employed, and although this typically is a good thing (knowing they haven’t been fired for some reason), it’s challenging to get references.

I can’t recall a candidate ever saying it was OK to call their current employer for a reference. If they’ve been a steady employee—not job hopping every two to three years—getting a current reference isn’t really an option. The best you can do is get some information that’s several years old from a person who may not even remember much about your candidate. Nonetheless, you must work through it to keep your company growing.

Recent Case In Point

During a candidate interview earlier this year, we spent a couple hours on the phone chatting about experience, our firm and the types of work we do as well as our respective goals. I felt there was a good fit, so I asked two other engineers in my office to join another call with the candidate.

That subsequent call went well, so I made the candidate an offer, and it was accepted. However, in preparing to start working with us, it was determined there were some extenuating circumstances (which we had discussed) that required a delay in the candidate’s hire date. While I was disappointed, I understood the situation, and we agreed to postpone the hire and revisit later this year.

A couple weeks later, the candidate called to let me know his current employer had laid him off. On one hand, I was disappointed for the candidate; I wouldn’t wish a layoff on anyone. On the other hand, I now could talk to a current reference. The candidate indicated his former employer was willing to be a reference.

The reference phone call revealed the candidate was an excellent employee, but the office’s primary work didn’t match well with the candidate’s experience. More importantly, their office was very busy, and it didn’t have time to shepherd along a young engineer to get them up to speed. We (employers) have all been there, and I didn’t think much of it.

Several weeks later, I received an email out of the blue from a headhunter I know, providing information on a young candidate engineer who had been pigeon-holed into a CAD/BIM support role because he/she was good at it. The young engineer couldn’t get help learning the engineering side of things and was frustrated their career was now on the wrong path and wasn’t going to lead to growth as an engineer. So, he/she was looking to move.

What struck me about both of these candidates was the underlying theme that neither were able to get the coaching they needed to advance their experience and careers.

Starving for Talent

Every engineering firm wants a candidate who already “knows everything.” When they arrive, they just need to learn the new system and get to work cranking out engineering. That person doesn’t exist today, so we have to dig deeper and invest in our future.

We have young engineers anxious to make a difference and be part of an engineering team. They deserve the chance to learn from our industry and get that experience just like we did. Is that difficult? Yes, particularly when we’re busy.

However, we all must find a way to make that knowledge transfer happen and bring along this next generation of engineers. We will be much better off personally sharing what we know rather than letting an entire generation of engineers Google their way to experience. There’s just as much bad engineering advice on the internet as “fake news.”

Help Them Teach Each Other

In our office, we’ve tried cross-pollinating our young engineers, letting engineer A, good at task A, help engineer B get up to speed on task A. And let engineer B do the same for engineer A. Senior staff are only teaching once, while your young engineers are learning how to teach each other. A win-win for everyone.

As a bonus, the young engineers also learn how to explain something so someone else can understand it. That’s not only great within the office, but also gives them a new communication tool when they work with clients. Clients appreciate it when someone actually explains something to them vs. just telling them the answer. It makes the clients better informed for their next project and perhaps wins you a few “brownie points.” 


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About Douglas Fitzpatrick

Douglas G. Fitzpatrick, P.E., is the founder, president and practicing engineer of Fitzpatrick Engineering Group, a 14-year-old structural engineering firm specializing in commercial and healthcare building design.

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