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Consulting Section
15

Consulting Section

Consulting Section

(OP)
why is it that the consulting sector in Engineering generally is less lucrative than other industries such as Finance Consultants? and compared to other sectors such as oil and gas, EPC, utilities, generally are less lucrative? I feel like as structural engineers there is alot more risk in what we do but get paid less?

tia

RE: Consulting Section

In my opinion structural engineering consulting services are based on lowest price and being cheaper than your competitors. I called a couple of my local structural firms for a quick quote, they told me a couple thousand. I then asked how much is his competition going to quote, they told me probably less.

Owners are not interested in the best quality structural engineer, they want the cheapest that meets code, gets permits,and provides decent service.

The first stage of site investigation is desktop and it informs the engineer of the anticipated subsurface conditions. By precluding the site investigation the design engineer cannot accept any responsibility for providing a safe and economical design.

RE: Consulting Section

2
Yep, geo has it correct. There's too many people doing it and no perceived value or obvious difference to a typical client between a good structural engineer and a bad one (at least until after the job is completed). Often you also have other engineers diluting the mix even further by cutting corners deliberately or unintentionally. In my local area I'd say way less than half of the engineers I've personally worked with have extensive experience with structures but most all of their companies offer structural engineering services in one form or another. Lots to say on this but it's all pretty much been said before.

I believe the only possible way to fix this is to setup your business so that it does not rely on clients that need or otherwise cannot afford what you deserve for your work. Leave the residential work, condo work, "quick jobs" and what not for someone else. Focus on clients where your work is meaningful. If you can cultivate work with industries, contractors, municipalities, sub contractors (like precasters, retaining wall manufacturers, etc.), or architects or engineering firms without a dedicated structural engineer; those people will see your service as adding value to their work. Find people who have possibly worked with another structural engineer before and try to provide a better service at a fair price. They'll know what they want and what good engineering is and like someone who recognizes when they have a good mechanic they will stop shopping around and just go to you directly for future work. Not saying you can then overcharge for your work but rather then you have the freedom to ignore what other people are charging and charge what you need to pay your bills and make a profit commensurate with the skills and specialties you have.

Then, with a steady base of work, you can look at the one off jobs and quote them a fair price. If/when they walk then no loss to you other than the time to quote it, they can go shop at the firms that will give them a plan stamp or substandard engineering. But, if you perpetuate this race to the bottom then the cycle will just continue. Additionally, you can (and should) tell them when they don't actually need an engineer. If they want a price for engineering but really they just need a skilled contractor then tell them that.

I've been thankful that the majority of my work is and has been for people who value a good engineer. I'm spoiled I guess but I'd go bankrupt before I started charging bottom dollar prices for my engineering skills.

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, VT, CT, MA, FL) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://americanconcrete.com/

RE: Consulting Section

agreed with previous comments. I would add that it seems to be worldwide issue.
We are compared to other industries underpaid, but at least we have the busiest forum here..smile

RE: Consulting Section

(OP)
Thank you guys for the posts, it does make sense why we are underpaid if everyone is trying to undercut each other to get the job, but it appears we are different from let say, construction contractors, where there is an obvious difference between an expensive one and cheap one.

I also see this problem for architect and maybe they have it even worse off than us, I have see architects spend many times the hours we do on a project and I am thinking they only charge maybe double our % of the construction costs so at the end of the day it almost seems like they are loosing money.

I believe one way we can provide value to a project is a good structural engineer can provide the minimum to meet code in a more efficient way to limit labour and material costs (ie slab thickness, column layout, core walls layout, construabulity in our designs etc)

I just find it difficult to swallow when some of us are loosing sleep at night(I am sure many if you guys have experienced this)not knowing if our designs are being carried out to its fullest extent on site and also the design actually working as intended and at the end of the day nobody really values a good structural engineer.



Thx

RE: Consulting Section

Nobody values a good engineer, no matter how good.

I believe if more buildings actually fell down we would be much richer men!

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (OP)

less lucrative than other industries such as Finance Consultants?

My little brother is finance and this comes up frequently. His explanation:

1) Money guys understand money and value better that we do, even though we think that it's all very simple and obvious.

2) No money guy ever went into money to not have any so they tend to exhibit more solidarity than we do on compensation. With technical work, there's always some nerd out there willing to buy an assignment because they think it's cool. Sometimes... that nerd is me. Ergo the fundamental supply and demand problem.

Quote (OP)

I feel like as structural engineers there is alot more risk in what we do but get paid less?

Do yourself a favor and get that nonsense out of your head this instant. The price of all goods and services ultimately comes down to replacement cost and does not fundamentally reflect effort, skill, or induced suffering. My father, who birthed my money guy brother, also had some interesting advice that I've found to be spot on over the years. He told me that there are only two fundamental ways to make money, both rooted in supply and demand:

1) Do something that other people won't do. Shovel shit, put yourself in harms way, be parted from your family for extended periods.

2) Do something that other people can't do. Cardiac surgeon, professional athlete, rock star, entrepreneur.

His point in telling me that was to steer me towards #2, education in particular. Structural engineering tries to be in the arcane knowledge "can't do" category but doesn't do that quite well enough I'm afraid, particularly in the age of computers. One nice thing about entrepreneurship is that, while not everybody can do it, pretty much everybody can take a swing at it if they are so inclined. Yay capitalism (tempered with appropriate socialism)!

RE: Consulting Section

If people want a change with this....we need to be more vocal about including language in the PE/SE rules that would exclude these overseas designs. I'm no lawyer, so I'm not sure how to say it....but there has to be one.

As it stands now, large outfits are sending work overseas, then it's getting stamped here. The "review" clause in some states rules is allowing this.

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (OP)

I believe one way we can provide value to a project is a good structural engineer can provide the minimum to meet code in a more efficient way to limit labour and material costs

This does not add any perceived value to the owner; they already assume this is taking place. In addition, what differentiates you from every other engineer trying to do the same thing?

Put yourself in the owners shoes. If they have no knowledge of your skills they get quotes from 3 engineers, and get three different numbers. What items are apparent other than who has lowest price?

A well-marketed company that looks impressive on paper?
Able to meet their timeline better than the other engineers?
Specialty services offered?
Previous projects?
Reviews and ratings from past clients?

Technical skill of the structural design is not on that list. If you figure out how to put it there let me know.

My thoughts, which are untested as I don't run a firm (yet), is related to how a contractor recently sold me on their company when I needed some blow-in insulation installed in my very tight attic. They added value during the quote process. The other companies were good and all had decent prices, but this insulation company went above and beyond. They inspected my roof and we spent an hour or so debating how to get proper ventilation in my tight eaves. They candidly admitted that it wouldn't be perfect but they had an idea on how to solve the problem and we discussed it. I asked them about some government rebate program and they pointed out quickly why I shouldn't bother as it wouldn't save me money in the end. None of the other companies did this other than say "your eaves are tight". They proved to me that their technical skill added value before I even hired them. They were middle of the pack on price; I went with them and after the job was done I couldn't be happier.

I hope to emulate this when I am competing against other engineers. For right now I'm spared as most of my engineering costs get folded into the cost of precast products.

Quote (KootK)

Do yourself a favor...

KootK: Every guidance counselor in high-school should have the 2nd-half of your post framed on their wall. Too many people get suckered into "pursue your dreams" without actually finding out how or why it will (or wont) make them money.

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, VT, CT, MA, FL) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://americanconcrete.com/

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (MIStructE)

I believe if more buildings actually fell down we would be much richer men!

While I'm sure that this was meant rather facetiously, I believe it to be an important part of this problem. In a statistical sense, the quality of structural engineering work truly does NOT have meaningful consequences. So why should clients pay for good work? I have exactly one idea for how this might get fixed without going to straight protectionism. It's based on my expectation that, baring frequent earthquakes, only a structural engineer can really parse out good structural engineering work from bad. So I'd like to see all jurisdictions legislate a mandatory, anonymous, 3rd party peer review for all structural works of any significance. Set the fees at 15% of the EOR fees or something. I feel that this would lead to several desirable outcomes:

1) Higher quality structural work.

2) More volume of structural work available.

3) Crap structural work would hold up permits etc and cause delays. At long last... consequences.

Some of the seismic jurisdictions like California and New Zealand have already taken meaningful steps in this direction which I feel is great.

Quote (WARose)

As it stands now, large outfits are sending work overseas, then it's getting stamped here. The "review" clause in some states rules is allowing this.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that this is a part of my business model at the moment. I mostly do and stamp my own US work, leveraging a favorable US/CAN exchange rate. In some troublesome jurisdictions, however, I'm partnering up with others to stamp my work where needed.

RE: Consulting Section

Quote:

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that this is a part of my business model at the moment. I mostly do and stamp my own US work, leveraging a favorable US/CAN exchange rate. In some troublesome jurisdictions, however, I'm partnering up with others to stamp my work where needed.

But I am talking about stuff getting sent to India/China and then getting stamped here for a fraction of the cost if all the work was done here.

RE: Consulting Section

WARose:

I both agree and disagree. I honestly have no real heartburn about someone playing by the rules but finding a way to do the work cheaper. If someone in Guangdong can design a beam just as good as I can; fine. If they provide a crap design or don't play by the rules; then I'm pissed.

In short, I don't want protectionism; that doesn't elevate our profession.

The best example of my thoughts is related to the PE/SE rules you noted. I'm all for a SE title restriction to those who have passed the 16-hour SE exam. That exam is brutal and if you pass that you know your stuff IMO. That said, I don't feel it should exclude someone who hasn't jumped through all the hoops if they can profess their skills in other ways than a title.

Quote (KootK)

So I'd like to see all jurisdictions legislate a mandatory, anonymous, 3rd party peer review for all structural works of any significance.

This can work; all my DOT designs undergo extensive review. Sure, sometimes I get a lazy reviewer who clearly skimmed things, but often I see them coming back with detailed comments. I highly doubt an unqualified engineer could do DOT work in my home state without getting tripped up quickly by the review process.

The trick would be twofold; selling it to the owners/contractors and making it actually a solid review process that doesn't just turn into another checkbox on the permit process (just look at how ineffective a typical code enforcement officer is). Ideally, I'd suggest that the owner would be required to hire the 3rd party inspector. Florida does this where threshold buildings (3 stories or more, or high occupancy) require a state-licensed threshold inspector to perform 3rd party inspection. It's mostly inspecting the contractor but it would be ideal to have them also be required to review the structural design as well.

Either that or implement an audit system. Similar to auditing PDH credits, have a state board audit a random design by a few randomly selected engineers.

Thoughts?

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, VT, CT, MA, FL) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://americanconcrete.com/

RE: Consulting Section

I understand and expected that the India/China stuff was the crux of your comment WARose. But, truly, I am a lesser version of that same problem. So I think that it's best to just own up to that and let the chips fall where they may. Like you, I eat what I kill these days so I make use of every competitive advantage available to me. While I apologize for nothing in that regard, I do not relish the extent to which I may be souring other people's markets as other groups have soured mine.

I would love to see a day come where clients sought me out based on the merits of my engineering skill such that I could ditch the low cost angle altogether. Unfortunately, the guys that do the best job of marketing technical work are invariably the business & marketing guys. And, almost by definition, your good technical engineers rarely possess that same skill set.

RE: Consulting Section

Quote:

I both agree and disagree. I honestly have no real heartburn about someone playing by the rules but finding a way to do the work cheaper. If someone in Guangdong can design a beam just as good as I can; fine. If they provide a crap design or don't play by the rules; then I'm pissed.

In short, I don't want protectionism; that doesn't elevate our profession.

What is going on is destroying our profession. I've seen it used as leverage even in commercial work.

How does it elevate our profession to allow this to happen? What is the point of someone getting a grad degree and a SE (both of which I did), to compete against someone who lives in a country where the cost of living isn't even a quarter of what it is here?

If ASCE can push all this stuff about raising the bar and so on.....seems to me like they could put aside some time to fix this. You can "raise the bar" all you want.....nobody will want to reach it if this isn't addressed.

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (WARose)

What is going on is destroying our profession. I've seen it used as leverage even in commercial work.

How does it elevate our profession to allow this to happen? What is the point of someone getting a grad degree and a SE (both of which I did), to compete against someone who lives in a country where the cost of living isn't even a quarter of what it is here?

Are they actually playing by the rules, though? If someone in India gets an SE license and is designing a structure just as good as I can and leverages their cost of living then I lost not because their cost of living is lower but because mine is too high. However, if some guy in the states is offering design services to someone and is simply plan stamping a drawing their guys in India drew up then they're not playing by the rules. Even if by some quirk they are playing by the rules, then the rules should be changed.

In my home state I can legally stamp other engineering works if I verify all the work involved. I could conceivably get someone out-of-country to perform the design and drawings but I want to see detailed calculations and follow along with the design process (providing input where relevant), make changes where appropriate, go through all their work and make sure it matches work I could do. In short, the cost I save likely would be offset by the work involved to review. This is how it should be; if it's not then either the system is broken or they are not playing by the rules.

Yes, I'm sure there are big firms where they can have foreign engineering divisions who are fully licensed and they can offer a lot of quality engineering for cheap. Yes, this hurts our competitiveness if we're not leveraging this, but we live in global economy. Too many old-guard businesses are dying because people put their fingers in their ears and ignored global competition until they vanished.

The "profession" of factory work hasn't been destroyed; it simply moved. If a similar thing occurred to engineering it wouldn't destroy the profession, just relocate it. You will never stop this, you can either adapt to it or hope you retire before it comes to pass. If you recall your engineering history; France used to be the prime location of structural engineers back in the day. Did they have similar complaints when engineers from England got in on that work?

Thus, I'll find other ways to compete against that sort of business rather than price alone. I wont rely on someone setting up a wall to insulate me from the world just so I can make more money.

Edit: Sorry, WARose; I'm addressing you directly. Similar to KootK's signature, my intent it to passionately debate this. Not implying you are wrong nor implying anything against you. Hope I didn't come off as aggressive or dismissive. I value your opinion greatly.

Edit Again: Hey, I just noticed that KootK doesn't have his usual signature any more. Gave up warning people in advance KootK? :)

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, VT, CT, MA, FL) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://americanconcrete.com/

RE: Consulting Section

Quote:

Are they actually playing by the rules, though?

Yes they are. (At least as they stand now.)

Quote:

If someone in India gets an SE license and is designing a structure just as good as I can and leverages their cost of living then I lost not because their cost of living is lower but because mine is too high. However, if some guy in the states is offering design services to someone and is simply plan stamping a drawing their guys in India drew up then they're not playing by the rules. Even if by some quirk they are playing by the rules, then the rules should be changed.

That's my point. It isn't licensed engineers in India stamping this stuff.

Quote:

The "profession" of factory work hasn't been destroyed; it simply moved.

Just about the same thing.

Quote:

If a similar thing occurred to engineering it wouldn't destroy the profession, just relocate it. You will never stop this, you can either adapt to it or hope you retire before it comes to pass.

If this happened to any other profession.....there would be hell to pay. I've seen how lawyers (for example) fight for their profession. We just get run over.

Quote:

If you recall your engineering history; France used to be the prime location of structural engineers back in the day. Did they have similar complaints when engineers from England got in on that work?

I don't know when "the day" was you are referring to here.....but the British have traditionally protected their professions. When the "brain drain" began to happen in the UK in the 70's/80's.....it was professional organizations in the UK who were among those advocating a tax cut. (Which happened under Thatcher.) Here, we seem to want to penalize ourselves rather than protecting the homefront.

RE: Consulting Section

In Ireland we generally don’t find that we’re competing with China/India on our projects. However we’re constantly competing with the cowboy who’s willing to cut everyone else’s throat and it becomes a race to the bottom. Very frustrating.

Regardless, I don’t think there will ever be great money in our profession. The closer you are to the money, the more money you’ll make...and as engineers we are way down the line!

Interesting notes above about clients and what they want in an engineer. The way it is here, clients dont want the guy who can save them 5% on their steel tonnage or the guy who can shave a few kg/m by doing a fancy buckling check.. They want the guy who brings them for dinner, gets them concert tickets, gives out the expensive brandy at Christmas.. That’s the reality of business, not engineering. And unfortunately, many engineers are not great at that stuff as pointed out by Kootk above.

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (TehMightyEngineer)

Are they actually playing by the rules, though? If someone in India gets an SE license and is designing a structure just as good as I can and leverages their cost of living then I lost not because their cost of living is lower but because mine is too high. However, if some guy in the states is offering design services to someone and is simply plan stamping a drawing their guys in India drew up then they're not playing by the rules. Even if by some quirk they are playing by the rules, then the rules should be changed.

I'll share my experience at one of the larger companies that I believe was a competitor to WARose's. Typically very early in the project bidding/negotiation process a decision would be made by the management of the company about the appropriate amount of work to be sent to an oversea's office vs. kept in the US. I've personally seen as low as 30% and as high as 90% (though it varied by project and also occasionally what the client was willing to tolerate) of the total structural work sent to oversea's offices. The work is then completed (sometimes with some level of back-and-forth between the US/Oversea's operations, sometimes with very little (if any)) and sent back to the US for review by a senior engineer/lead engineer who then stamps the work. I worked on several projects that had oversea's components and not once did I meet an engineer that was licensed in the US on the other end of the phone/emails.

Is this legal? In some states, absolutely (via the "review" clauses in state's engineering board rules). I'm likewise sure it goes on in jurisdictions where it is not legal and is either not reported or not investigated (thankfully I was never asked to take part in a project in one of these states). Should it be legal? From the perspective of every US trained and licensed engineer, I would think not - Honestly, even the company management was not very thrilled with the idea, most viewed it as inevitable and something we would have to work with or perish.

For your information, the going rate in India (for our group) was around $15/hr all-in/out-the-door for a senior engineer with at least 10 years of experience in the field. Compared to a rate of maybe around $120/hr for a similar US engineer.

RE: Consulting Section

WARose: sounds like you're saying that the rules are permitting an unlevel playing field. In that case; I agree that the rules should be changed.

To use my factory example; I imagine other companies that kept their factories domestic decry the fact that China has lax enivronmental standards, working conditions, and so on. I agree that tariffs or subsidizing local work could be used to offset these and create a more level playing field.

In short, I believe in fair competition; if there is unfair competition then I'll be the first to decry it in our profession.

Quote (WARose)

I don't know when "the day" was you are referring to here

16th and 17th century. Sorry, historical anecdote about the dawn of structural engineering; not exactly a fair apples to apples.

You're right that a country as a whole has an interest in protectionism if only to prevent a "brain-drain". I'm referring specifically to the profession exclusive from a countries interests.

HuckleberryFinn: Great anecdote. I guess the only question I have is how much review actually went on? Were the senior engineers actually reviewing the work or just quickly reviewing with some amount of plan-stamping? If you can't answer this I understand.

I would entirely agree that the profession cannot sustainably continue to rely on self-policing of our profession any more. The rules are setup assuming that the threat of a board cracking down on a firm outweigh the benefits; I would highly suspect that is not the case. If these rules are being broken then the system needs to change. If there are loopholes in the rules then they need to be patched.

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, VT, CT, MA, FL) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://americanconcrete.com/

RE: Consulting Section

Even if you better protect engineering work (which we should IMO), that won't stop drafting from going overseas one way or the other. Don't see why engineers can't set up barriers but lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc... get to pile them sky high. I do prefer Canadian style licensure for this reason - you need some Canadian experience, references from P. Engs, and then your permission to consult to practice.

RE: Consulting Section

I should have known better than to get sucked into this one. I find it heartbreaking but I care too intensely to look away I'm afraid.

Quote (TME)

Hey, I just noticed that KootK doesn't have his usual signature any more. Gave up warning people in advance KootK? :)

Yeah. As you know, the way that I go about things here tends to get me mired in a lot of conflict. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't actually enjoy that for its own sake. I'm a stereotypical Canuck in that regard. It's just the only way that I know of to get smart people to stick with me to resolution on complex issues. I'd hoped that the signature would tamp the emotionally charged situations down some but that's not been my experience at all. Since the signature didn't seem to be accomplishing anything, I came to see it as just thread clutter that would be better eliminated.

Quote (WARose)

What is going on is destroying our profession.

I don't disagree. To simply add to the pool of shared meaning on this, I submit the following:

1) I can only think of two ways to deal with this. One is protectionism and the other is the peer review scheme that I described above. Otherwise, I think that we in the host marketplaces simply have to accept that our graduate degrees etc were poor financial investments as they do not garner much value in a global marketplace.

2) One of the few ways in which I am "Trump-ist" is that I'm am all in favor of protectionism for host markets like the US. I think that globalism really and truly is a bust for a country like the US that effectively IS the market that it itself wishes to serve. Access to such a market is the golden goose of economics. Why you'd want to share it with a world with whom you can't compete price wise is baffling to me. Locker 'er up and keep everybody out I say, even poor KootK. It's unfair and inefficient in a global sense but, seriously, does anybody in the host marketplaces really want their standard of living averaged with that of the rest of the world? I sure don't.

3) I know of at least two top tier US firms that are outsourcing the majority of their design work and effectively giving away design for free in exchange for procuring the special inspection work that has to be done locally. My dream profession as a loss leader. In a global marketplace, you want to be damn sure that your bread and butter isn't really great two-way slab design for condos using SAFE.

4) Through some recent forensic work, I've come into direct contact with some outsourced structural engineering. The engineering work was bad to the point of being dangerous and criminal. And this was a systemic thing involving many projects, not just a one off. I am not implying that all "foreign engineers" are doing bad work. I myself am a foreign engineer much of the time. That said, we would not be discussing the truth here if we didn't acknowledge that the quality of outsourced engineering work tends to be poorer than locally executed engineering work on average. That, particularly, since quality may be a legitimate basis upon which local engineers can compete if the benefits of that quality can be demonstrated.

5) Through my experiences here on Eng-Tips, my concern for the quality of outsourced work has only grown. Taken as an average not representing the capabilities of any one individual, it is my impression that a lot of very eyebrow raising questions tend to come disproportionately from members in developing markets. Moreover, members from developing markets seem to be suffering massively from a lack of quality mentoring. I can't help but wonder if the guys who should be mentoring such engineers from the cube down the hall are really located Pittsburgh, not doing any effective mentoring at all. In this sense, outsourcing may well be doing some harm to the remote engineering community as well.

RE: Consulting Section

If I had to generalize; I feel we're all thinking the same thing, just for different reasons.

Quote (KootK)

I think that globalism really and truly is a bust for a country like the US that effectively IS the market that it itself wishes to serve.

Interesting line of thought.

Quote (KootK)

a lot of very eyebrow raising questions tend to come disproportionately from members in developing markets

You're not alone in this observation.

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, VT, CT, MA, FL) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://americanconcrete.com/

RE: Consulting Section

I think mandatory peer review for anything that does not fall under prescriptive codes is a big start. The peer review engineers would need to be vetted properly, and it must be sufficiently rigorous. Calculations for unique situations, the lateral force system, and even just loading diagrams should be reviewed. They should also note anywhere additional detailing is required / would clear up uncertainties.

As mentioned above, having consequences for providing shoddy design/drawings is a must if we want to stop the race to the bottom.

RE: Consulting Section

I once worked on a project being built in China. In accordance with Chinese policy, our company had to partner with and split the design work with a local Chinese engineering firm in order to get the job. I wonder how it would work out if other countries (such as the USA) had similar policies.

For example: I just reviewed a delegated steel connection design calc submittal that was done by a engineers in India and stamped by a random PE in Delaware (side note - the guy didn't even stamp it with the correct state for the project!). The outsourcing firm that did the calcs advertises their structural engineering services online for $7/hr. Calcs were actually done very well but the whole setup just felt shady and kind of made me upset.

Now what if this outsourcing firm was required by US law to share a certain percentage of the design work with a domestic firm, instead of just requiring a PE stamp of approval? I think that might be an effective way to balance the scales a little bit. It's not strict protectionism, plus other countries already have similar policies (e.g. China).

RE: Consulting Section

If we're actually serious about changing this and not just griping around the water cooler, you'll need to get the owners/contractors/engineering boards/AHJs to agree to this change in the paradigm.

As the anecdotes here show, the market has already begun to shift toward this being the norm. You will effectively be raising the cost of structural engineering and putting those that adopted this at a sudden disadvantage, plus adding another layer of bureaucracy that may or may not be effective in solving the problem. I believe some states would be more favorable to this than others. I would surmise that the engineering boards would be the place to try to get this change through. However, a lot of engineering boards get pressured from NSPE and other interest groups that are staunchly against differentiating structural engineering from the other PE disciplines. Though, NSPE is very protectionist about PE licensing, they might be called to action regarding the outsourcing issue as long as it was framed as affecting all engineering (which it likely does).

I worry without a large collective effort by a national organization like NSPE, ASCE, NCSEA, or similar; this has no chance of coming to be. ASCE seems to be wrapped up with their "raise the bar" idea, which doesn't directly solve the problem. NCSEA is wrapped up trying to get the SE license to become a thing; which tends to meet a lot of resistance but at least is a partial solution to the problem (but may just push things more toward outsourcing).

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, VT, CT, MA, FL) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://americanconcrete.com/

RE: Consulting Section

Quote:

ASCE seems to be wrapped up with their "raise the bar" idea, which doesn't directly solve the problem.

Even though ASCE doesn't directly come out and say it (at least anywhere that I have seen)......I think they hope that the "raise the bar" stuff will fix the salary issue by the end result being less of us. To me, the outsourcing issue is doing that by itself.

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (TehMightyEngineer)

...all my DOT designs undergo extensive review. Sure, sometimes I get a lazy reviewer who clearly skimmed things, but often I see them coming back with detailed comments. I highly doubt an unqualified engineer could do DOT work in my home state without getting tripped up quickly by the review process.

On the other side of that, I'm one of the DOT engineers that reviews designs by consultants that our department 'subs out to' on occasion. Right now, we have 3 prequalified firms, 2 'big' ones and one smaller one. We get excellent designs and details from one of the big firms and the smaller one. The other big firm, not so much; we've spent typically more time reviewing (ultimately substantially redesigning) the crap they submit than if we'd just designed it ourselves, and yet, they're still on the list, for now anyway.

RE: Consulting Section

Keep fighting the good fight HotRod. Some of my coworkers will mention to me about how much of a pain DOT jobs are and I remind them that because we try to stay on the ball and do everything correctly we have it easier than someone who is not so conscientious. In short, they'll eventually either shape up or decide that DOT work isn't worth it and go back to cutting corners on private jobs.

So, I would think ideally your "big firm" soon shapes up or throws in the towel. You just have to outlast them (or kick them off the list).

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, VT, CT, MA, FL) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://americanconcrete.com/

RE: Consulting Section

I've been advocating for dropping them, but the decision is made couple levels above my pay grade.

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (TehMightyEngineer)

I guess the only question I have is how much review actually went on? Were the senior engineers actually reviewing the work or just quickly reviewing with some amount of plan-stamping? If you can't answer this I understand.
Well, I can't speak for everyone obviously but we generally tried to legitimately review things similar to how you might review an EIT's work. That said, the quality of work received varied wildly depending on what specific team you worked with - some were just as good (if not better) than some US Engineers, but most were probably somewhere between below average to bad. As previously mentioned in this thread, I think mentorship and staying in one place long enough to learn is a big problem over there (lots of jumping ship for small raises). Also some jobs had a lot more time for review than others - I'm not saying we ever sent anything out that we knowingly did not review but if in a time/hours crunch, we'd spend less time reviewing, say a set of t-poles, than we might a new turbine foundation or something like that. Judgement was used where warranted/appropriate I guess is what I'm trying to say; I don't know of any specific instances of plan stamping but I'm sure it went on/continues to go on.

Quote (WARose)

Even though ASCE doesn't directly come out and say it (at least anywhere that I have seen)......I think they hope that the "raise the bar" stuff will fix the salary issue by the end result being less of us. To me, the outsourcing issue is doing that by itself.

Agreed. As someone with at least two decades of working time left in front of me, I'm actively planning for a transition into an alternate career. I think it's obvious to most of us that Structural Engineering isn't exactly a growing profession in the US at this point and that return on investment on our degrees is likely to continue to worsen in the foreseeable future. I've been considering real-estate or flipping houses - maybe specifically ones with structural or foundation damage (since theoretically I might have a market advantage there)? I don't know...McDonald's is always hiring!

Huck

RE: Consulting Section

Huck: Goodness, I would hope it's not that bleak. While I've tried to proactively hedge my bets with available alternate careers (only a handful of hours short of my commercial pilots license), I definitely think I can do considerably better in engineering. That said, you're entirely right there are easier ways to make money if money is your only objective.

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, VT, CT, MA, FL) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://americanconcrete.com/

RE: Consulting Section

Quote:

Agreed. As someone with at least two decades of working time left in front of me, I'm actively planning for a transition into an alternate career. I think it's obvious to most of us that Structural Engineering isn't exactly a growing profession in the US at this point and that return on investment on our degrees is likely to continue to worsen in the foreseeable future. I've been considering real-estate or flipping houses - maybe specifically ones with structural or foundation damage (since theoretically I might have a market advantage there)?

I've tried to change my role as well. The last time I was between jobs I applied to estimating positions. I got a few interviews but no offers. (And that kind of amazed me because I can estimate circles around the so-called "estimators" I've worked with in this business.) I've done some PM stuff as well.

RE: Consulting Section

So, I've recently moved to that other side of the world (to provide that mentorship to young engineers).

There are some incredibly bright engineers here.
There are many engineers who are very good at doing something the same way they've been instructed in the past.
And of course, there are some who don't tend to make it through a long career.

A lot like the west, except for maybe a higher proportion of that second category.

Some of that is cultural -- eastern cultures generally have tendencies to value community and consensus rather than taking risks and "creative problem solving". Some of it is a function of the education systems. Where I am, education is often by rote -- solve problem X repeatedly until you know how to do it in your sleep. You get really good at that specific problem, but people are challenged when presented with a variation on the problem. And they may not want to stand out by asking questions, challenging the boss, or looking into doing something differently by themselves.



But, at the end of the day, if the requirements of law are being met (appropriate direct supervision or review as permitted), if the standard of care is adequate (reviewed like it would be from an EIT or another engineer in your company), if the quality of work stands up (e.g. additional regulations to protect the public are not needed), then we all live in a global economy. Blame the internet and deal with it.

Firms who are working entirely from the western world will need to differentiate themselves on the quality of education and experience of their team (which is still typically higher in the west), professional communication in the native language, ease of coordination with the client or other project team members, or local presence for inspections. Those are not insignificant advantages -- especially for the best types of clients.

Of course, we've all seen cases where the requirements of the law are not being met, and shoddy designs are slipping through. (Otherwise, there would be no sterotypes to discuss in this thread). By all means, report those to the state board.


----
The name is a long story -- just call me Lo.

RE: Consulting Section

Just to address a few of the specific comments here:

Quote (Bones)

Calcs were actually done very well but the whole setup just felt shady and kind of made me upset.
On what grounds? If the result is good, and the law allows it... doesn't feel like there's much of a leg (outside raw protectionism) to stand on there.


Quote (Bones)

Now what if this outsourcing firm was required by US law to share a certain percentage of the design work with a domestic firm, instead of just requiring a PE stamp of approval?
I'm with WARose and TME, I'm not a fan of the states that allow a PE to stamp work without either direct supervision, or some sort of thorough review (and how to define thorough is tricky). But outside those states, doesn't a stamp do exactly that? Require some portion of the work to be done by the EOR? Even if that "work" is the review?

Quote (SU10)

having consequences for providing shoddy design/drawings is a must if we want to stop the race to the bottom
Having consequences for shoddy design (e.g. a physical result that is insufficient), yes. For drawings that have content errors and create those shoddy results, yes. But shoddy drawings? I don't know how to create consequences for that outside letting the market (mechanism = complaining contractors) sort it out.

Quote (SU10)

The peer review engineers would need to be vetted properly, and it must be sufficiently rigorous.
Before I moved, I was a part of several major bridge jobs where a 3rd party peer review engineer was required by the project specs. I think on all of these jobs, the "vetting" was providing a project portfolio from both the EOR and reviewer of X similar projects. The quality of experience (or at least how well that was marketed) was rated and that was credited to the contractor's bid at bid time. Worked well. Would be hard to pull off on smaller scale projects.

Quote (TME)

Similar to auditing PDH credits, have a state board audit a random design by a few randomly selected engineers
A logistical nightmare, but I have to admit I would enjoy the idea. (gosh, has it already been long enough since the SE exam that I can say that?)

----
The name is a long story -- just call me Lo.

RE: Consulting Section

A lot of good posts here. To add some point that I think have been missed:

1. Work-life balance can be quite good provided you work for someone competent.
2. In my view it is an interesting job (from someone who mainly does the numbers/prelim design).
3. Excellent travel opportunities - it is very easy to switch around if you put a bit of effort in, hong kong, australia, singapore, dubai etc.

I would argue to OP that these things don't come up as often in better paying careers (in particular point 1).
I would also encourage you to think a bit less bleakly, or at the least to switch to another company with more interesting jobs. Try and look at the positives once in a while.

I also think your enjoyment or how much you get out of your career is down to the quality of mentorship in firms.
I was extremely fortunate to have one guy tell me practically everything I know (note I also did an insane amount of further reading which put me lightyears ahead of most people in my old firm). This is not only limited to the technical side, but also what it means to be a good consultant and a professional. Find an intelligent guy who you can relate to who's been around the block a few times. Their experience will be invaluable.

If the guy who's doling out your work isn't doing it for you, switch. In fact I think this is the most important thing for you to consider in your younger years as a professional and is massively massively underlooked.

Have a look at the "Civil Engineering in 1minute thread" - awful thread title but a lot of good advice in there for younger engineers.

Best of luck OP.

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (Lo)

On what grounds? If the result is good, and the law allows it... doesn't feel like there's much of a leg (outside raw protectionism) to stand on there.

The first red flag was that he stamped the complete wrong state. How closely could he really be reviewing this stuff? Secondly, the file location stamp in the footer was something like "C:/Documents/To_Be_Stamped"... could he at least call it "To_Be_Reviewed" or something a little less blatant? Lastly, I googled the name of his firm that was on the cover sheet and there was no trace to be found online. So, overall yea it struck me as someone doing something they know is shady and trying to fly under the radar. There are plenty of laws that allow exploitation, but that doesn't mean I have to feel good about it.

I've worked overseas and mentored young engineers in other countries who are still dear friends of mine and I wish them nothing but success and would never hold a grudge against anyone trying to make an honest living. Despite my comments, I'm not a proponent of economic isolationism in any form and would prefer some other less drastic and hopefully more pragmatic solution to the problem. For one thing, I probably will not be delegating as much scope going forward.

But I can't deny that globalism is affecting the value of structural engineers. This is the third year in a row that I'm spending the holiday season on an unpaid furlough due to lack of design work in my office. Our one current project is being designed and built in China and being shipped to the US by sea. We just got the leftover scraps like cooling tower foundations, etc. Also, executives recently traveled to India to look at companies who could rapidly pick up bulk design work in the event that we won a large job. That way they can keep only a small handful of domestic engineers on the payroll and still bid on large projects. It's tough not to see the writing on the wall. In any case, I'll enjoy doing structural engineering as long as I can, but have no issue starting over doing something new if I have to. Change is inevitable and nobody is entitled to guaranteed job security, no matter what you do.

Quote (Lo)

I'm with WARose and TME, I'm not a fan of the states that allow a PE to stamp work without either direct supervision, or some sort of thorough review (and how to define thorough is tricky). But outside those states, doesn't a stamp do exactly that? Require some portion of the work to be done by the EOR? Even if that "work" is the review?]

My idea would be more of enforcing a how the proportions of the contract money be divided up, with some maximum percentage allowed for the foreign engineering entity. The engineering work itself can be divided up however the 2 parties see fit, but . This might be a way to help average out the $120/hr US fee and the $7/hr foreign fee, for example. But again, I'm not really advocating for this, just throwing it out there because that's a policy I've observed in China (a country run by engineers, btw) and it seems to be effective for them. I'm not a money guy by any means, and I'm aware that the issue is much more complex than my simplistic interpretation.

RE: Consulting Section

I still believe the root cause of the obstacles facing the practicing engr lies in the mentality of engrs themselves which leaves them vulnerable and easy prey for other competing interests in society....the short end of the stick, in other words....the post below kinda sums it up...



SAIL3 (Structural)24 Feb 11 10:55
How did we get into this mess, anyway?
I believe that the root cause lies in the mentality of the engineering community themselves as a whole(me included).
We are who we are and every organization that makes a good living
piggybacking on the work of an engineer knows this.
So how did we end up this way?
The following is a plausible explanation.
Wheather you believe in creation(which I do) or the evolutionary theory, both hold a clue to our curious behavior.

Creation: God blessed the engineer with this awesome gift of being able to bring to bear on a technical problem such logic, talent,insight, perseverance and quest for the truth. In His wisdom, He knows that if this gift was ever let loose in other areas of the profession or society as a whole, total chaos and mayhem would shortly follow.The glue that holds society together, this grey area, this social lubricant that enables man to live with fellow man rests on tolerance, halftruths, nuances, a wink and a nod and taken to it's extreme may be called diplomacy.
Not so with the engineer with his relentess quest for truth and
distain for ambiguity.So God has limited the awesome talent to a very narrow area in society in order to achieve the greatest good for the most people(Pareto principle).
So instead of whinning about the limits of our profession,let us be grateful that God has chosen us to render this great good to
our fellow man.
Result.....acceptance, peace, serenity.

Evolution Theory: Ever since man discovered the first tool, there was an immediate advantage and payback to the inventor/engineer.
This encouraged more of the same behavior. Through many cycles of this discovery/reward down through millenium, nature honed a very powerful and effective tool until you find in the 21st century a class of the human race that is devoted soley to the solving of
technical problems.So far so good, until recently, when machines began to replace man and his function in society. Make no mistake about it, this model holds some dark and cruel truths as many species became extinct when they were of no more use to nature or lacked the ability to change and adjust.So will the computers eventually replace engineers?.As we sense the computer relentlessly closing the gap, those of us who have any experience or expertise in engineering wave these attributes wildly about in the air , looking for some recognition and sense of value and a seat at the table when the dust settles and all of this plays out.Next time you excitedly bring home a brand new computer from
ComputersR'Us with more ram, faster , bigger hd etc.,you may well be,unwittingly, bringing home the seeds of your own demise as an engineer.
Result.....looming change, uncertianty, vulnerability, anxiety, worry, doom and gloom.

The first thing I am going to do when I get off this forum is unplug the computer and ponder long and hard on what I have just stumbled upon.
Now, where the heck did I put that sliderule!!

RE: Consulting Section

What this really comes down to is whether we are a profession or not.

WE as a Engineers are tasked with protecting the health and safety of the public, and only WE are qualified to do so. Not owners, not contractors. They are not qualified to judge the safety of a structural design, nor should they have to do so.

If we let this race to the bottom continue, we will fail our mission to protect the public. We can keep striving to add “value” to our clients, or think up some new clever time savings, but there is no escaping the cost pressure. It affects everyone.

I was reading my board’s newsletter yesterday and saw an enforcement action related to a fatal pedestrian bridge collapse. Violations included:

“... submitting plans for permitting before computing adequate calculations himself or before verifying that another had computed adequate calculations…”

“... failing to have another employee perform a QA/QC review process before construction.”

This guy worked for one of the most prestigious firms in the state. I couldn’t even get an interview over there. I’m sure the Engineer could have figured out how to design the structure safely, but I bet he simply didn’t have the hours.

I really like KootK’s focus on anonymous peer-review, because this forces owners to buy “good” engineering, as judged by the Profession. If the owner hires a substandard engineer, the design will get torn apart in the peer review and the project will get delayed. If they think the comments are unreasonable, let them appeal to the Board.

It sounds to me like we fear being labelled as protectionist more than we fear the proliferation of dangerously deficient engineering. We need to remember what our mission is, and take pride in our profession rather than our ability to undercut the engineer across the street. Or is more than 1% of construction costs for a safe structure just too much for the world to bear?

RE: Consulting Section

Quote:

I was reading my board’s newsletter yesterday and saw an enforcement action related to a fatal pedestrian bridge collapse. Violations included:

“... submitting plans for permitting before computing adequate calculations himself or before verifying that another had computed adequate calculations…”

“... failing to have another employee perform a QA/QC review process before construction.”

Was that the Wake Forest bridge collapse? Looks like the guy got his license suspended for 2 years. (One way to save money on CEU hours wink.)

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (SocklessJ)

, let them appeal to the Board.

That's going to require a massive upsizing in the role of most state boards. At least here in the Midwest, it appears that being a board member is definitely a side-gig for the members (at best). Not saying it can't or couldn't be done, just a lot of distance from here to there.

RE: Consulting Section

8

Quote (WARose)

I've tried to change my role as well.

It hurt my heart a little to hear this. In part, because I hear strong echos of my own frustrations in your comments. In all my travels, I've never met anyone in person who appeared to be as into structural engineering as I am. And I think that much of that passion manifests itself here on the forum. I sometimes wonder if that creates the false impression that I've got things figured out to any greater extent than anyone else. That KootK! He must have it all figured out. He must spend his days designing skyscraper outriggers and rolling around in gold doubloons!. I'm sure that nobody actually thinks that but you get the idea.

The truth is that I've also made active attempts to change my role:

1) I was offered a PM job with the city engineering department. About the same money, 32 hrs per week of soft labor, and a defined benefit PENSION! Naturally, I said no to that nonsense. Imagine all that relaxing time that I'd have to spend with my family? Oh, the horror.

2) I was offered a PM job with a building envelope firm. No pension but way better fees and way better hours. I do work with these guys as a sub and they are literally able to charge 2X what I charge them for my own work. And it doesn't raise an eyebrow with their clients. Somehow, they're better at selling my structural service than I am. But envelope isn't cool like structural is... so I persist.

In a way, having had these opportunities and turned them down has made things worse. Now I'm an active participant in my own suffering rather than just a passive victim. Self flagellation. I look back fondly upon the days when I was just a passive victim.

I don't hate competition.

I don't hate poor folks in developing countries.

I don't hate more lucrative professions.

What I hate is that my relationship with structural engineering is such that I give it everything that I've got and what little I get back in return always feels woefully out of proportion. It's like having a terrible girlfriend. I'm a lowly 5.0 and she's a sexy 9.5. Decades in, she still wants to see other people and only comes over late at night when she's drunk and looking to score. In the morning I wake up feeling foolish for not having the balls to just walk away and for continuing to throw good metaphorical money after bad.

In short, know that I absolutely share in your frustrations.

RE: Consulting Section

Thanks for the thoughts Kootk. Part of looking at a new "role" for myself from time to time is not just the squeeze getting put on us by economic pressure(s)......it's best illustrated by what happened to this guy in N.C.. Sometimes I get to the end of stuff and think: have I missed anything with the way I've been rushed through this? I take my oath as far as public safety very seriously.....and I don't want to be responsible for someone getting injured or killed. That would be tough to live with.

RE: Consulting Section

I've been involved in quite a few high rise curtainwall projects, and as such, worked with a lot of different Chinese engineers. It is quite common these days for high rise curtainwall to be pre-fabricated in China, and for the Chinese curtainwall suppliers to provide full engineering calculations to local codes.

All of the Chinese engineers I've worked with have been quite proficient at calculations, proficient in western codes. Great detail. this is impressive if you consider they don't speak english well. I've spoken to them directly, and its also impressive that they are usually well versed in chinese, american, canadian, australian, british and EU codes.

The problem is that they are too numbers focused, and do not make many engineering judgment calls. there is no concept of capacity design.

Our fees to have them perform the work, and have us review and stamp are around 80% of what we would charge to just do the engineering ourselves. we review the calcs in detail and carry out several back and forth rounds of review. This is the norm, from speaking with other engineering companies involved in this industry.

RE: Consulting Section

As an EIT, I am looking forward to a long career in structural engineering. The way I look at is as long as there are incompetent contractors making welds with rebar as filler, my job is safe.

https://www.eng-tips.com/viewthread.cfm?qid=447240

I had an old boss tell me one time that "engineers design buildings just fine, but they are terrible businessmen." The engineers I know don't usually like this aspect of the business. They feel more comfortable with a pencil and calculator in hand than sitting for an interview with a prospective client. If good engineers want to get the good jobs, sometimes it means getting out of our comfort zone and selling ourselves a little better. Just my $0.02.

RE: Consulting Section

Quote (StrucDesignEIT)

The way I look at is as long as there are incompetent contractors making welds with rebar as filler, my job is safe.

How is that exactly, that you feel safe then?

All I see is potential for getting dragged into dispute/court where to contractor tries to make a case that it's my fault either way. Even if his argument comes down to my detail/instruction/drawings wasn't clear enough, or I saw it and didn't say anything, or I didn't see it and so why didn't I see it, blah blah blah...

I am genuinely curious how you see this.

RE: Consulting Section

I think StrucDesignEIT's comment was in reference to the out-sourcing (correct me if I'm wrong) - you can outsource the design, but when the s$%t hits the fan on the job site, you still need an engineer to put on boots and check it out - you can't outsource that. Advancement in technology makes it easier to outsource and reduces the amount of skill required to produce adequate designs of basic structures, but I think you'll always need the engineer who doesn't mind getting his/her hands dirty and figuring out issues on site. In the interest of staying relevant and valuable in my local market, that is the kind of work I have been steering my career towards.

RE: Consulting Section

CANPRO is correct. As long as there is shoddy work performed on site, there will be a need for competent engineers to provide solutions. Neither a computer program or an engineer 3000 miles away can take the place of an engineer that is physically present to inspect the problems and devise repairs. IMHO, the quality of work that I have seen in my market is becoming worse instead of better. This, somewhat unfortunately maybe, keeps me busy fixing other people's mistakes.

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