Recruiters Bemoan Backlog Of Openings for Engineers

Submitted by Ted Takacs on Wed, 01/19/2005 - 10:37.

By Perri Capell


 The aging U.S. infrastructure, clean-water needs, and general economic growth
are creating strong demand for experienced engineering talent. Employers and
recruiters say it's almost as hard now to find enough professionals to fill
available jobs as it was during the peak of the last economic cycle in 2000.

"There's an acute shortage of engineers across the board to do the
traditional infrastructure work," says Steve Henton, a senior recruiter with the
LucasGroup, an Atlanta-based search firm. (LucasGroup is a partner of "Right now, anywhere in the country, I can fill a job for a
midlevel project manager in water, waste-water or civil project work."

Greg Simutis, compliance and human-resources manager for Sterling Engineering
in Arlington Heights, Ill., says an increase in client demand in the past six
months has led to "well over 100 openings" for mechanical and industrial
engineers at his company. Ideal candidates have 10 or more years of experience,
primarily in machine-product design and development or plant-facility work.

"The market is picking up, and people are getting more confident in terms of
their current jobs or finding new jobs," says Mr. Simutis. "It's definitely
getting harder to find them."

Experience Counts

The hottest roles are for civil, construction and architectural engineering
professionals with five to 15 years of experience, say recruiters. Demand is so
strong that CyberCoders, a national recruiting firm based in Irvine, Calif.,
received assignments to find 50 engineers during the first week in January,
notes Heidi Golledge, a partner and executive vice president.

"We are seeing a surge in civil-, mechanical- and construction-engineering
openings," she says. "The housing market is still booming, and our
construction-and-development clients can't find enough civil and construction
engineers to fill all their open positions."

Here's an overview of demand:


Civil engineers: Companies specializing in water and
waste-water-treatment work are busy, causing demand to rise for civil engineers
with this type of experience. Commercial site-development work also is steady or
growing. Engineers are needed to work for large design-build firms, such as
Bechtel Corp. or Washington Group International, that contract to build
airports, bridges and large infrastructure projects, or smaller subcontractors
and professional-services firms, says Michele James, president of Avery James
Inc., a Los Angeles-based search firm.

"We are beginning to see signs of life in transportation coming back, for
instance, runway, mass-transit and airport projects," says Mr. Henton. However,
highway work isn't expected to increase until the U.S. surface-transportation
law is fully funded, he adds.


Electrical and mechanical engineers: The nation's aging electrical
infrastructure is spurring demand for electrical engineers with experience
working on electrical lines, substation design and building schematics. Also,
EEs are needed to design instrumentation and controls at plants or facilities
that want back-up power generation in case of outages, says Mr. Henton.

Mechanical engineers skilled in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning
systems (HVAC) also are needed, especially for hospitals, mission-critical
centers and other buildings that want to improve air quality. "As
indoor-air-quality needs become more acute, hiring demand will grow," Mr. Henton


Architectural engineers: With resort and high-rise residential-building
owners breaking ground on more new properties, these professionals are in high
demand, particularly if they have project-management experience.
Construction-project managers who can work on retail, residential and other
building sites also are hot commodities.

Bringing in Business

Although companies are hiring hands-on engineers with just a few years of
experience, the greatest call is for 10- to 15-year professionals who have
business-development, project-management and financial-management expertise and
a strategic-business mindset, say recruiters. In general, annual salaries for
such professionals range from $85,000 to $120,000 says Mr. Henton.

"Clients are asking us to find people with strong management and
business-development skills, so obviously there is a lack of this skill set in
the marketplace," says Ann Marie Melgard, vice president of Chicago-based search
firm RSMR Global Resources Inc. "Most engineers have the technical skills but
not necessarily the relationship-building or management skills, which are key to
success in engineering."

She notes the typical career path for engineering executives working in
corporations: hired as a professional, then rising to management, to business
development, to a regional executive job, to the top-executive level. "What's
hard for companies to find is the skill set beyond the technical strength -- the
people and management skills -- that seems to be lacking in engineers," she

Ms. James notes that she's often asked to find principals with environmental
or civil backgrounds who can run practices of smaller firms.

Several current searches highlight this need for experience:


  • A leading global environmental-construction company has asked RSMR to help
    it find a senior vice president for waste water, to oversee business development
    in the Western U.S. Candidates should have 15 or more years of experience in the
    waste-water marketplace, with solid relationship-building and marketing
    experience, says Ms. Melgard. Annual salary would range from $140,000 to
    $190,000 depending on experience, plus a bonus.
  • Ms. Golledge is searching for a project manager based in Florida with
    experience building "big box" retail stores for a global construction company.
    Candidates should be civil engineers with P.E. designations and have
    Florida-building backgrounds so they understand local codes concerning
    hurricanes. Maximum salary for the role is $120,000 annually.
  • An Atlanta homebuilder needs to hire several project managers to oversee
    different developments nationwide. These jobs also require civil engineers who
    are P.E.s and will pay $100,000 to $150,000 annual salaries plus bonuses based
    on production, says Ms. Golledge.
  • Mr. Henton recently finished a search for an engineering-consulting firm
    that hired a civil-engineering manager to open a new office in Florida. The new
    hire needed water and waste-water project experience; contacts in and knowledge
    of the local market; an ability to write business proposals and win projects;
    and technical management and hiring experience. The executive will earn a
    $110,000 annual salary plus have the potential to earn a bonus equal to 25% of
  • Rising Pay

    Compensation for engineers has risen along with demand. Ms. Golledge notes
    that salaries have increased by 5% to 10% during the past six months. Ms.
    Melgard says pay increases of between 15% and 20% are usually necessary to
    entice recruited engineers to take new positions.

    "We are definitely having to pay more," says Mr. Simutis. "It's nowhere near
    what we were looking at in 2000, when it got very competitive in terms of pay
    rates and benefits, but we are starting to see things become a bit more

    Sterling employs about 300 engineers, but contracts many of them to clients.
    Even though a number of its engineers are employed as contractors, it
    contributes to company-provided health and 401(k) plans and offers paid time off
    to help attract and retain top employees. Sterling hopes to increase its roster
    by about 40 to 50 engineering professionals this year.

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