Last month the ASCE Civil Engineering Source asked a group of civil engineering leaders how they thought the bipartisan infrastructure law was going to change the industry.
Their answers painted the picture of a rapidly changing profession – from new transportation infrastructure to more long-term, sustainable strategies.
But those potential changes don’t simply affect an industry. They’re personal, too.
So today, the Source asks the expert panel what skills civil engineers should be developing now so that they can take advantage of the future opportunities afforded by the bipartisan infrastructure law and the changing profession. Here’s what they said.
1. Knowing is good. Knowing how to apply what you know is better.
“I think the first thing is to understand the fundamentals. The best thing to do is to do well in core classes, understand the fundamental principles,” said Monique Head, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, associate professor and associate chair in University of Delaware’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Then start to think outside the box and challenge the consensus thinking: ‘OK, yeah, these are the fundamentals, so how can they be applied in new ways?’
“So I really encourage students to take ownership of their capstone design projects and really use that as a training ground for what you might experience when you get into the real world – to really think about alternative solutions or how these solutions benefit the communities.
“Use your scholastic opportunity as a training ground and really think about those critical issues that society is facing and how you can apply what you’ve learned.”
2. Specialize in being broad.
“My background and expertise are broad. And that was really on purpose on my part. I got as many different experiences and skillsets as I could possibly get, and that’s served me pretty well,” said Del Shannon, P.E., M.ASCE, principal and senior vice president for Schnabel Engineering in Boulder, Colorado.
“The ability to write and communicate has been really important throughout my career – extremely important to work with owners and regulators and others to communicate your ideas both written and oral.
“So my advice is to have as many skillsets as you can and be a broad thinker; understand as many facets of engineering as you can. We do have specialists and that’s great, but we all can’t be specialists.”
3. Change is constant. Ask, learn, stay open.
“I think what’s important for the soon-to-be-graduate or recent graduate is to be willing to ask questions, to be willing to learn, to be willing to offer suggestions and then learn why that suggestion may or may not be embraced,” said Kristina Swallow, P.E., Pres.18.ASCE, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation. “That is one of the most critical skills that a young engineer can have.
“I also think that one of the hallmarks of engineering is the concept around engineering judgment. I think our profession has gotten to a place where we rely on standards and guidelines maybe almost to a fault. Learn from your mentors and from your supervisors; when they are flexing those guidelines, learn why that would make sense and why you maybe wouldn’t do that on another project.
“Engineering judgement is something that you’re not necessarily going to get to use a lot early in your career but start to understand it so that as you evolve in your career, you’ll be better able to know when the standards and the guidelines are exactly applicable and when it’s OK to maybe step outside of those a little bit.”