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Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

I am curious what the good folks of engineering tips think about my career conundrum. I am leaving some details purposefully vague so people don't latch on to them too much and for privacy as well.

- I am a former construction manager who went to graduate school after CM for structural engineering. I am licensed in California. Most CM's...pretty much ALL CM's...do not quit CM to go to grad school for structures. I put a lot of effort into structural engineering and the PE as well.

- I have worked now for almost three years as a structural engineer both in the private sector and recently with a DOT. I like my job, like what I do, but an opportunity has presented itself that is making me think about leaving it all behind.

- Currently, I have a job offer from the feds for work as a facility manager overseas as an expat. This is a career job, not temporary, and is pretty much overseas the entire time. Housing is paid for, so is schooling for my kids at good, private schools.

I would have significantly more vacation, my salary would grow, right off the bat, by about 40% and long term, the delta would only widen. It would be easier to take vacation in my new job, and I would see the world as well.

The pension scheme is significantly better, with a cost of living adjustment in retirement that my current pension lacks. More importantly, the federal pension requires far less of my money to be put in and there's a generous matching 401k which the state lacks.

My spouse is urging me to take the facility manager position. My kids would have a better education and overall quality of life.

Just writing this down makes me think "no brainer".

However, as a fairly junior structural engineer, if I leave now, this is it. All that work, down the drain in many ways. Frankly, I am overqualified and not really qualified to be a facility manager, and the job really does not even truly need an engineering degree...though it certainly is good. It feels like a waste of my education and talents to be a facility manager, though I'd be ok with the job and it fits my personality in many ways.

Structural engineering has been challenging, more so than construction management, and very fulfilling. At times, the avalanche of minutiae, coupled with the "did you consider this random detail...or that random detail..." wears thin. I like it, but sometimes it feels like dealing with a really annoying nerd. On good days, it feels like unlocking the secrets of the universe; you know what makes our built environment tick.

What would you folks do? What do you think? Please let me know.

RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

IMO this is something that regardless of what anyone tells you, you're going to just go with your gut decision.

Therefore here are some things I recommend having a think about. Try and think about how much value you place on them e.g. point 3 is important to me.

Advantages of structural engineering
1. Pretty good work life balance
2. Lots of international opportunities with the right company (although the post is overseas as discussed, theres different opportunities e.g. Hong kong, new Zealand, UAE etc).
3. Creativity/giving the brain a good work out (mirroring your above post, I dont know anything facilities management I don't want to be condescending about something I don't know about).
4. Very solid and respected career - you are established with what I imagine is a safe job. Also....

1. Who's the company? Is it worth the gamble especially if you're the bread winner. Yes the money is worth more, but do people stay there for a long time? Do you have contacts within the company?
2. Is there a shortage of engineers in your region? I took a year off to play poker, and found it pretty easy coming back mainly due to a shortage of design engineers. Its not impossible to come back if you have a good CV and reference, although obviously the longer you leave it the worse it is.
3. Speak to your boss about a sabbatical - maybe you can work something out.

Have you maybe thought trying a different company, maybe with more challenging projects or more flexibility. That's the feeling I get from your closing paragraph. A year or two back I changed, and the difference was night and day in terms of day-to-day enjoyment.

The way I decided with poker was to rate the advantages and disadvantages and weight them on a 1-3 scale. You'll probably go with your gut anyway (Like me, incorrectly!) but it might help you think things through by putting pen to paper.


RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

I'm neither a structural engineer nor a facilities manager, so neither of these questions is meant to be rhetorical.....

Is Structural Engineering one of those rare disciplines where you actually use much of the detail you picked up at Grad School day to day - or did you learn lots of transferable skills there that wouldn't be wasted in a whole range of other challenging jobs?

Have you had a chance to get a few Facilities Managers to sit down and tell you some war stories over a beer or two? What does a memorable day look like? What skills did they bring to bear to pull the whole thing out the pooh? Would you get a buzz from pulling off a coup like that?

This is going to be one of those really traumatic job interviews - the type where you are both candidate and interviewer and where there's nowhere to hide. On the plus side, it sounds like you've got a choice between two courses of action - both essentially good. In a situation like that, your best bet is to settle on one of them, then don't look back.


RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

I agree with all the above comments.

But it is really what drives you in life. Is it about money , lifestyle , family etc. If it is you probably need to go with the FM job.
If you like the challenge the, the chase , the detail and the other stuff is secondary, then maybe you should stay with structural engineering but perhaps work somewhere else.

I like the advice from the previous post"In a situation like that, your best bet is to settle on one of them, then don't look back."

"Any water can be made potable if you filter it through enough money"

RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

How is it they settled on you? Were there others that turned them down? If so why? Why not someone with more age? experience?

RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

Wow, thank you very much for replying so soon. By the way, this entire forum has been great. There have been numerous occasions when I google a technical question and a thread here answers it.

- Great piece of advice zeusfaber, "pick one and don't look back". No matter what I do, I have to not look back. I have a bad habit of doing that. Hopefully my family will do the same and not look back. Important additional point here is that my wife absolutely, passionately, wants me to pick the FM position and has said it would hurt her if I turned it down. Pretty important...

- ukbridge, I agree with you, ultimately I will go with my gut, like I usually do...incorrectly :)

To answer some questions:

- The facility manager job is with the U.S. federal government, not a company, and has rock solid job security. Job security wise, both options are similar, but the facility manager job is more secure, especially long term. Government agencies can run out of projects to do...a facility will always need a bubba to pick up the phone when the big boss's toilet is clogged.

The only negative with facility management is that it pigeonholes me and if God forbid, something happens and I lose the job, I wouldn't really want to be a facility manager elsewhere and would likely be up the creek without a paddle.

If I somehow lose the job at the department of transportation, I have a highly marketable skill that I love and would be fine consulting.

Put it another way, for me there is structural engineering versus everything else. Whether it is facility management, construction management, finances, whatever...it's all the same to me; what I call "engineering light".

I suppose that brings up a good point; the facility management is more a means to an end than a love affair; a job that is acceptable but has amazing benefits and a really cool lifestyle when working for the feds in this particular position. If it was not for this specific facility management job, I wouldn't touch facility management with a ten foot pole...I have no innate desire for it.

- Given how old I am, and the choices before me, I fully intend to stick with one option or the other until retirement. Both are government agencies where folks usually don't quit, the pension schemes alone are too good to bail out just to make a little more on the private side, if that. I've had it up to my eyeballs with job changes, layoffs, etc... this is it for me.

- ukbridge, another point to make is that in my case, if I stick with bridge design, my foreign travels are over, except for a vacation once in a blue moon. I got bit by the travel bug years ago working overseas and miss it badly...back to that "means to an end" of the facility manager job. I'd be overseas for the rest of my working life, could easily retire somewhere out there too.

- oldestguy...brother, I don't know how they settled on me, just got lucky I guess...or unlucky as this decision is driving me mad. They're not necessarily looking for ex-facility managers, because there are not that many, and of those that are out there, many are not at the educational caliber that they need, i.e. a lot of facility managers are just handymen for an apartment complex...

FYI, this was not your typical application (about 8 manhours to complete, maybe more), nor will it be your typical interview. Let's just say a lot of folks would probably not be able to properly complete the application; and even if they did, they would likely fail.

- zeusfaber: "Is Structural Engineering one of those rare disciplines where you actually use much of the detail you picked up at Grad School day to day - or did you learn lots of transferable skills there that wouldn't be wasted in a whole range of other challenging jobs?"

Structural Engineering is the epitome of the rare discipline where you use much of the detail you learned in graduate school and frankly, is squandered if you do anything else. Now, does it give you a big leg up to be a structural engineer and maintain a compound of buildings...absolutely! The way you see buildings is often night and day better than some of your fellow non-structural, civil engineers.

My facility manager job will involve many small renovation projects, including horizontal work, so yes the structural engineering degree is definitely a reason I was selected, but on an honest to goodness level, I'm squandering my hard earned knowledge by switching to facility management.

Last devil's advocate point:

As someone who has both land surveying, construction management, and structural engineering experience; being an FM is not a bad fit considering that in my case it will involve many small renovation and expansion projects. While I am absolutely more passionate about designing bridges...I miss being the boss, the guy in charge of the money, in charge of the employees...the guy who draws up the projects and someone two or three levels under him does the detailed structural design.

Sometimes I'm tired of being an educated worker; as an FM I will immediately be "the man" again. As a structural engineer, it takes many years of work, whether on the government or private side before you can be "the man"...just part of the business, makes sense, I get it; nevertheless, I miss being the boss.

It's too bad I don't love being an FM. Then again, I highly doubt there are any kids who grow thinking "gee, I can't wait to prioritize work orders, ensure the maintenance schedule is followed, and update spreadsheets!" Kids, like me, dreamed of designing highways and railroads, built them out of legos...

Anyhow, feel free to throw more thoughts out there. I really do appreciate what you all wrote.

Thank you very much and have a Merry Christmas.

RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

Most people get into structural engineering because they love it. It doesn’t pay as well as some other fields, anyone getting into it for the money is probably going to be disappointed.

Sounds like you’re more or less being offered a bunch of money, great benefits, and more or less permanent job security to leave the field. Not completely, but you won’t be doing the structural work you got into the field to do on a regular basis.

Everyone has a price for that. Some don’t love it that much and their price is so low they hardly even enter the field. Some love it so much they’d do it for free, personal life and financial well-being be damned. Most are in the middle somewhere. You’ll have to figure out what your price is, where you are on the spectrum. Obviously having a family to support changes the calculus a bit. But if they meet your price, then if I were you I’d leave, not look back, and enjoy my money. I may not like the job as much, but that’s what the money is for.

RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

Lots and lots of good points above e.g. Zeusbar about contacting experienced facility managers. As I mentioned above, note down all the advantages and disadvantages in a spreadsheet and assign a weighting including those above, it will help you try and think through it rationally.

Ultimately though it sounds to me that you've more or less settled on the facility management role, chiefly "being the man in charge".

I think oldestguy makes a good point - why you specifically vs a guy with no experience? Is there a big shortage of facility managers? These are big red flags for me, and I would think very hard about why they specifically want you from their perspective. Are they an established company? Theres no such thing as a free lunch as they say.

If you can address these points I think though the fact that:

1. You're more passionate about a management role.
2. You've paid off your mortgage mortgage and kids schools
3. If it all goes to pot a year down the line its not impossible to get a job as a structural engineer back (2-3 years I think it'll be impossible though)

Means that you should say yes and don't look back.


RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

At the end of the day, your personal fulfillment and job satisfaction is paramount. If you are doing something that you are truly passionate about, then I think it's not a no brainer to choose something else simply because there are lots of bennies. It definitely sounds like a lot of bennies, but your hesitation suggests that however overwhelming these bennies will be, you appear to feel that you are not going to be satisfied and happy, because the challenges and problems you wanted to tackle through your advanced degree won't be there.

However much stress my jobs have created pale in comparison to the fact that the problems I'm working on are a blast! Even though I'm often repeating the steps that others have taken or created, learning new things, solving new problems, etc., are totally worthwhile. Luckily, I also make a better than decent wage, so it's hard to say whether I would still choose this path if I only made 50% of what I'm making now.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
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RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

I think MrHershey hit the nail on the head; he really understands this particular niche of civil engineering. In many ways, being a civil-structural engineer is masochistic; very difficult educational pipeline, requires a great deal of applied experience to advance and then you have to go into a sub-niche such as hospitals, residential low rise, high rise, highway bridges, railroad bridges, stadiums, etc...for relatively low pay with high stress to boot. Sadly, I was making significantly more money as a construction manager than as a structural engineer which is completely screwed up because I can tell you that construction management is easier than structural engineering.

If I did not have a family, there is a bigger chance that I would say "personal life and financial well-being be damned" and simply stick to my structural path. When my own wife is urging me to take this unique opportunity and the delta in benefits is massive compared to my current job and practically any structural engineering job...it's hard to say no. That's a key point here too, we're not talking about making 5-10K more a year; we're talking about 40K difference for starters, a widening gap down the road, and far better vacation and pension. I look at it and just think "da** dude, you're really going to say no to this, do you love structural engineering that much...is it really worth that much?"


IRstuff, taking this FM job would be the first time in my life when I picked something more for the benefits, than the job. It's an unknown in that regard, and one fear is that I will not excel at my new job because I don't love it. I suppose I will work hard and try not to let that happen. Ultimately, like MrHershey said...that's what the money is for.


One last item here is that my structural engineering career has not been smooth. I did well at my jobs, but ended up bouncing around, going through a company wide layoff, and finally ending up in a position where I had to take a massive salary cut with a location that we don't really like. It's been a bit of a mess in retrospect, and my family doesn't even really like the locations where we have ended up in, including the current one. Had things gone more smoothly post graduate school; if we had picked a location we love from the get go, and I picked the right organization from the get go...this whole thing might not have even happened.

Thank you for the advice, very good points and thought provoking overall.

RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

JME, but most of my Army buddies who have taken "long-term" overseas posts with our govt have been disappointed due to big promises and short-lived positions due to ever-changing politics. If the proposed facility is a military one and you're not a veteran then I'd be particularly concerned as you're likely just a place-holder until a veteran meeting the basic qualifications comes available.

RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

Quote (gendna2)

I look at it and just think "da** dude, you're really going to say no to this, do you love structural engineering that much...is it really worth that much?"

Yep. I had to ponder a similar scenario a couple years ago. Would have been a temporary overseas assignment with my same company. Still a big uprooting, albeit a temporary one. Opportunity for the company fell through, so never ended up having to name my price. But still had to think about it.

What I found helpful in coming up with my number was setting life goals and working backwards from there. I wanted enough money during that temporary assignment to come back with student loans gone and a down payment on a house. Then I wanted housing covered while I was there and plenty of time off to travel and money to travel with.

So I’d encourage you to do that. Since your assignment is more permanent I’d focus on long term goals. Make enough money to move retirement up X years for every year worked and to be able to afford a nice house when you eventually come back. Make enough money that you can cover private university tuition for your kids after working there for Y years. Enough money and time off to take family on expensive vacations Z times per year. If you’re leaving a field you have a passion for to a career that is more a means to an end, figure out what ends you want covered and back out an asking price that achieves them.

RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

I am not a structural engineer or a facilities manager but I did grow up overseas so I thought I would add my two cents.

From 1989 (age 6) to 2000 (age 17) my family lived in the Middle East and South America and we loved it. As you said, the schools are very good. The expat communities are also very close.

My personal opinion is that exposure to different cultures was very beneficial growing up. My big regret from my time in the Middle East is not learning the language beyond some basic words and phrases so I would highly recommend language courses for your kids, it will pay off later in life. We also visited 20 countries or so for vacation, travel is so much cheaper and easier when you start so much closer to your destination.

I know what you mean about the travel bug, I haven't been able to go overseas for a year or so at a time since getting married and will get really antsy every couple of years without a good long distance trip.

RE: Leaving Structural Engineering for Facility Management...thoughts?

Thank you all for your time and advice. I want to especially thank you Mr. Hershey because you are a bona-fide, civil-structural engineer and based on your profile, we have trod very similar paths. Your advice has been absolutely invaluable and definitely swayed my decision. Really, your advice was the decisive push over the hump, especially when I saw your previous posts and profile.

After asking a detailed question about potential structural engineering licensure, I realized that I answered my own question. Given how much I detest the concept of the SE license, coupled with zero interest to work in Illinois or do work requiring it that license elsewhere, not to mention the fact that I am essentially leaving structural design engineering for a long time...well, obviously I will not go for the SE license.

Again, thank you for your advice.

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