Attracting and retaining young engineers

August 2008 » Editor's Comment
This time of year, as we are finalizing our annual CE News Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For ranking and preparing for the Best Firms To Work For Summit, my mind is focused on the human resource issues faced by civil engineering firms. We ascertain so much information about what firms are doing to attract and retain staff and how employees in our industry feel about their work environment through these initiatives, so I am full of ideas about how we can assist firms in creating better workplaces.
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

This time of year, as we are finalizing our annual CE News Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For ranking (the results of which will be published in the October issue) and preparing for the Best Firms To Work For Summit, my mind is focused on the human resource issues faced by civil engineering firms. (The Summit will be held Sept.18-19 in San Francisco; go to www.bestfirmsummit.com to learn more and to register.) We ascertain so much information about what firms are doing to attract and retain staff and how employees in our industry feel about their work environment through these initiatives, so I am full of ideas about how we can assist firms in creating better workplaces.

Knowing that many firms are challenged to find—let alone retain—engineers with five to 10 years of experience, and therefore are opting to hire and groom younger employees, I suggested that ZweigWhite Consultant Michael Zmugg analyze our data to find the best practices for firms that have exceptional satisfaction levels among staff with zero to four years of experience. Zmugg has worked for years with the data we collect from the Best Firms To Work For program to provide firms with customized analysis and comparisons of firm performance. He reports his findings in this month’s article, "Overcoming limits to success: Best firms to work for offer lessons for retaining junior staff".

Coincidentally, I also discovered a new study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) that complements his article, but looks at an even younger pool of prospective employees: the college senior. Firms and agencies that recruit at the college level encompass a large portion of our industry, so understanding what makes these members of the "Millennial" generation (also called Generation "Y") tick is valuable. Including people born approximately between 1980 and 1995, these tech-savvy students have been labeled as being "peer oriented and seeking instant gratification," according to Wikipedia. Other sources report that today’s youth has a strong community consciousness and seeks work-life balance. Interestingly, based on responses from more than 19,000 U.S. students, the NACE study reports vastly different characteristics than one would except, given these stereotypes, for what this group is looking for in their first job.

Edwin L. Koc, author of "The Oldest Young Generation—A Report from the 2008 NACE Graduating Student Survey" (www.naceweb.org/public/koc0508.htm), wrote, "These students are looking for a long-term relationship with the employer, one that can provide them with fundamental financial security (good insurance package), one that they can trust to be there tomorrow as well as today (job security), and one where they have room to grow without jeopardizing their financial safety net (opportunity for advancement)."

Low on the list of job/employer attributes are those typically associated with young workers, including the role a company takes in the community, how a company embraces diversity, and a casual atmosphere (non-competitive environment).

From all of this research, it is clear that younger staff have different motivations and desires than older workers. The trick is to balance your workplace practices and programs to satisfy everyone—a complex task. Hopefully, the articles, programs, and events offered by CE News and ZweigWhite will help. As always, I’m interested in hearing about what is working, and not working, at your firm.


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