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Where did all of the MEP engineers go?
17

Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

(OP)
I work for a somewhat large MEP (Mechanical, electrical, plumbing/piping) consulting firm in the United States and we're having what I perceive to be as an incredibly difficult time filling the numerous open positions that we have available. I may be completely wrong about this, but I don't recall this problem really existing before 2007-2008. I suspect that many who were laid off after the economy took a nosedive either relocated or found new careers entirely. There's talk about the possibility of conducting a search nationwide and, if the right candidate is found, paying him or her to relocate to one of our offices. While I understand that this is not uncommon, I don't think this much effort was ever necessary in the past.

To anyone else working in the MEP consulting industry, have you noticed significantly increased difficulty in finding talented mechanical and electrical engineers with experience in building systems?

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

4
I'd guess two things
Quit being cheap
Quit being aftaid of the 50+ year olds

But those are just guesses

Harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

3
Everyone wants to hire 'experience', but nobody wants to pay for it. I think it's the same in many industries.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

If you limit yourself to a region, you are likely to only find people from local firms. Based on my experience, these type of individuals are wanting more money, or they were let go due to insufficient work or insufficient skill/performance. There are engineers i know of that have worked for several firms in the area, for one or more of the previous reasons.

Doing a broader search will likely mean increased compensation package for the move, but that might be what it takes to get good employees. So if you are willing to pay more, you only have to be concerned with making sure they really do have the ability to do this. And remember that 20 years experience can mean 20 years worth of doing one thing well or 20 years of doing many things not so well.

And also remember that a PE does not necessarily mean a skilled engineer. It sometimes means they know how to take a test well, but not design a building system well.

Some of the best MEP engineers I know do not have their PE.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

(OP)
iceworm,

You do raise an excellent point about the current state of wages in the engineering industry. A year or two ago, I saw a job posting seeking an experienced mechanical (HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection) designer. The starting pay was somewhere between $12 and $14 an hour. I honestly hope that no one actually applied for it.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

After 5 years and no rebound in the industry, my guess is they had to move onto something else to put food on the table. Several EE's I know moved off to power generation for example.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

Strangely enough when I read this post yesterday the lyrics to "where have all the flowers gone" came to my mind - today I read the Pete Seeger is died yesterday. May he rest in peace. I love that song.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

(OP)
1gibson,

I've followed that thread on and off. I'm still not quite sure how I feel about the original poster's predicament. I will say this: I'd be pretty ecstatic about a 4% raise and a 4% bonus.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

5
jmbelectrical: you are no doubt trying to recruit the people you and your (our?) industry didn't hire 10 years ago as fresh grads. You can't find them because they've moved on.

Fix the problem at least a little by hiring fresh grads and training them. When we expected to do "just in time" hiring of experienced people well trained by others in our niche, we had a hell of a time. Now we hire co-op students, pick the best ones and hire them, and pay them well and give them interesting work so they don't leave, and we never suffer from shortage.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

But moltenmetal, that requires forward manpower planning... heaven forbid! I agree with you 100%, do lots of co-ops, make a job for the best ones, and train them and keep them happy. I'd add be very quick on opportunistic hires. If you hear of a good one on the market, you snatch them up-job or not. Obviously that depends on the size of your company to carry that person, but if you have the ability, those opportunistic hires are usually good catches.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

"Now we hire co-op students, pick the best ones and hire them, and pay them well and give them interesting work so they don't leave, and we never suffer from shortage"

Sounds like a formula for success. Been begging management (along with several other engineers) for hiring of this sort to assist (and, eventually, replace) some of us older, tireder engineers. Instead, we see a steady stream of new managers, and a growing backlog of engineering challenges with no time/resources/talent to really tackle them. I am beginning to think Snorgy is the new messiah.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

btrueblood: we did have to hire a few more experienced folks too, to keep the training/supervisory ratio reasonable- but our primary growth in our engineering team (more than double in under 5 years) has been by means of hiring former co-ops. The more senior folks we've hired have been hit and miss, probably because of a tendency to settle for Mr. Right Now rather than Ms Right etc., but also to some degree because of what I'd call "cultural lack of fit".

The best thing about hiring your former co-ops is that they know you, and you know them- you both have a chance to figure out if the fit of personality, motivation and skill to the needs and peculiarities of the business is good before you've made a big commitment to one another.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

Manufacturing companies lament, our schools suck.
We can't find anybody with the skill and knowledge(experience).


Of course they would never consider hire, train, and retain.
Hey, a new acronym HTR


HR do you hear me??!!


Seems no one is listening.

Oh well.......

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

Bill, I would like to expand on one statement... "we can't find anyone with the skill and knowledge." I would argue that the skill and knowledge exists and is easily accessible, but hiring managers / companies don't want to pay for it. Nor do they want to invest in training and development of their existing talent such that the gap can be filled. With such a top-heavy bias regarding "experience," I wonder when it will all come crumbling down? That heavy top end is dwindling as they all retire or move on to other things. What will be left? Young engineers who weren't mentored / trained / give the chance to move up the ladder, so to speak. Some may argue the younger engineers need to take that initiative... which is true. But from my experience, the older generation could do a better job of receiving that initiative, and basically training their replacements. What I've seen is stuffy people in management positions who just want to protect what they have until their retirement so they can make sure to keep their comfortable nest egg. That's kinda why I have this perspective that while some younger people need to show some initiative, some older people need to show some foresight and willingness to invest in the future generations.

Experience: accumulated knowledge over time.

Talent: the ability to use experience.

Which is more valuable?

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

Like Moltenmetal, I have worked for a company that had a strong co-op and mentorship program, and it truly showed. I have yet to work for a company with so much available Engineering manpower.

For Fam and glory (read money)I jumped over to the Consulting world for Mechanical. The quote that sticks on my head is "we can hire for that." They could get "Engineers", but with no long term planing and development system, they were lost. They would hire and fire on a whim, basically any failure to meet a managers expectations and you were gone. I lasted a year. The problems run deep and I get the impression, that in my area of the country, this is a common problem and things have not recovered enough to stabilize the consulting industry.

Assumably ( <--I think that's a word), like many others that want a stable job, I have left the consulting world for this reason. I interviewed with a few consulting firms, but they never impressed me with their answer to "How do you manage fluctuations in you work load?"

There are three ways to get talent...
Good pay w/ stability w/ a future, or great pay to make up for lack of stability or make them yourself.

Hope this helps.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

My MEP firm has weathered the down turn very well. We have actually grown over the last few years.

1. We are lean on staff so we don't hire/fire on a whim. In the last 10 years, we had one layoff of about 5 people. We were at about 100 people when I started and are at about 150 currently. It can sometimes mean a bit of frenzied chaos when thing get busy, but the chaos tends to not be for very long.
2. We have a diversified client base (military, higher education, government, health care, etc.) so when one market gets slow, we still have projects.
3. We diversify, i.e. get into commisioning, LEED services, etc.
4. We tend to hire a lot of co-ops and brand new graduate engineers and train from within.
5. We may not offer the highest salary or hourly rate compared to other MEP firms, but make up for it in the benefit package, i.e. extremely low health insurance payments for a fairly good family plan.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

(OP)
moltenmetal,

In my defense, I'm not the one doing the hiring. Our firm does often recruit fresh out-of-college BSME and BSEE graduates. I believe they're called "graduate engineers" at our firm. Could we stand to hire more? That's a difficult question that I'm unable to answer. I do agree with Gymmeh about the consulting industry being extremely volatile - at the time being, anyways. Quite literally, in a matter of weeks, we went from being adequately staffed to suddenly winning several major projects and coming to the realization that we need to hire additional staff within a very short time frame. As far as I know, there was just no way to forecast it and plan accordingly.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

(OP)
Gymmeh,

A similar quote that I keep hearing get thrown around is "we need to staff up for these projects." My initial thought is always, "And when the projects are finished...?"

By the way, is there still even such a thing as a stable job?

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

jmbelectrical (Electrical)

One more sinister aspect of the low wage scales you posted in your reply to Iceworm on Jan 27th, is that certain corporations do this on purpose. Then when they get no takers, they apply for a " Certificate of Labor " in the area where they live, enabling them to recruit overseas.
B.E.

You are judged not by what you know, but by what you can do.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

In my neck of the woods, the basic problem is the education and accreditation system. When I graduated in 1979, Building Services was a third year engineering elective, which meant that it was a timetable filler if you didn't have a full course load. Today, it's still a fourth year elective at the local University. Fundamentally there are very few University educated engineers that have ANY background or understanding of MEP systems for buildings. The Tech Colleges are doing quite well in turning out well rounded fan-pickers and plumbing pipe sizers, but those folks realize after a short time that the Mechanical Contractors are making all the money, and there isn't a lot of coin to be made in Consulting Engineering. About a third of our office are ex-pats from Ireland and the UK where they have much higher mandatory education courses for building services and they slot right in, but have to adjust to the local and North American standards and systems.

Again, this is a regional thing - this area (Western Canada) has gone through at least three big "economic corrections" in my career that have forced the consulting engineering culture into being a commodity, fee driven exercise. In our firm, we have seen a "churn rate" of close to 25% in the last year - with more than half of those 5-10 year experienced people leaving the industry altogether to do everything from industrial facility engineering, to auto parts, to light rail transit systems, and about 1/3 of those people who left were more or less off to a higher pay at a different place in the same field. I've spent a lot of time mentoring university grads who have gotten into this MEP Consulting business, but have become disillusioned with the amount of overtime, insane deadlines, dealing with Architects and clients who have no clue, Clients who don't pay bills, etc. and realizing it's not all Green Buildings, Net Zero, or Living Building Challenge projects on the leading edge of MEP systems design, and by the time they are in a position to get their P.Eng after 4 years, they're off to something else.

Our firm has a pretty good (I think) junior staff education program, support, and internal mentoring, but the amount of work required just to meet the financial targets means everyone is working harder than ever and still not getting decent raises, bonuses, or profit share (profit share, what's that??).

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

jmbelectrical,

There are places with stability, you just have to look hard.

The current place I am at has almost no turn around, the youngest person next to me has been here 5 years. However, it is small, there is not much fam & glory, but its stable, which is what I need right now.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

jmbelectrical: sounds to me like you work in an industry which wants engineers to be like unionized tradesmen- your firm wants to be able to go to the union hall the day after winning work, and take the next five guys in line. You CAN have that- experienced people still, even today- but those folks aren't employees, they're contractors. They charge a contractor's rate, as you'd expect them to, since they're covering a big chunk of your overhead. Hire them and poof, there goes your slim margin on your man-hours. Sucks to be in your business, which is why I'm not- I've been there. The only feasible solution for the labour woes of businesses like yours is for a few of them to go out of business.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

There are temp agencies. Some companies go though temp agencies so they can evaluate an employee before doing a permanent hire.

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

Whole lot of unemployed millennials. Consider training one.

Hydrology, Drainage Analysis, Flood Studies, and Complex Stormwater Litigation for Atlanta and the South East - http://www.campbellcivil.com

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

I am one of those that pulled off after 25 years in HVAC
Got sick and tired of old boys network, same old folks getting paid more and me doing more. I moved on on my own sort of.
Now I do some consulting here and there, the roof over my head is paid for, some retirement money aside, don't have to take the sh..t as much.
In a word, most of the good ones are not so hungry anymore.

I really love what I do, I don't need to be trained, I train others, love to teach and pass it on to the next generation (I do not want to take my knowledge to the grave).
I am in the DC area, people with my experience get 145K, when I ask the same, they want to offer 120K, so screw you, I am not working for you.
The other thing I hate is that most companies nowadays post and add on Craigslist without even putting their company name, and they expect a Resume?
Or, they want you to apply on line. Man, do I hate that.

I will apply to a company that puts its name out there so I can investigate it, one that puts a phone number, I want to call ahead and talk to someone.

And some companies are so desperate, they only use placement agencies. I never, ever send my resume to a placement agency.

Some companies have weird concepts, their company in the middle of nowhere and they expect people to move in, just like that, packing wife, kids and dogs for the small job they offer in the small town USA. Start considering telecommuting from out of state, you'll be surprised of the quality engineers you can get. Try free lancers too.

Yes, there are lots of lousy engineers out there, you need to hire 10 find one or two descent ones, lots of resumes with the truth stretched too far. Just hire the experienced guys and compare their salary to their output, you can fire him/her within two weeks if you think they don't worth the money.

One more thing: when I come to you with 25-years of experience, I expect benefits matching that experience (5-weeks vacation, fully vested in 401K, good healthcare, fair company policy, etc), not just two weeks vacation. Some companies still don't even have you fully vested in their 401K plan the first day on the job. You need 5-year tenure to take the little 2.5% company match, they are that cheap. some companies have a 10% minimum unpaid overtime built-in in their company policy. Despicable.

Does that help?

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

Oh man, I forgot how funny the OP was until the bump.

Quote:

I work for a somewhat large MEP (Mechanical, electrical, plumbing/piping) consulting firm in the United States and we're having what I perceive to be as an incredibly difficult time filling the numerous open positions that we have available. I may be completely wrong about this, but I don't recall this problem really existing before 2007-2008.

That's because they all got fired, remember?

Hydrology, Drainage Analysis, Flood Studies, and Complex Stormwater Litigation for Atlanta and the South East - http://www.campbellcivil.com

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

With apologies to Pete Seeger, as well as Peter, Paul, and Mary:

Where have all the MEPs gone, long time passing?
Where have all the MEPs gone, long time ago?
Where have all the MEPs gone?
Gone to better fields everyone.
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn...

www.EngineeringMetallurgy.com

RE: Where did all of the MEP engineers go?

It was tough to find good MEP's before 2007, it is still tough to find a good MEP willing to relocate, able to sell their house and buy a new one, and a family willing to relocate.


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