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Where to invest time as an EIT
8

Where to invest time as an EIT

Where to invest time as an EIT

(OP)
Howdy,

I am an EIT at a civil consulting firm, just over a year of experience now. Sometimes things slow down a lot and the EITs don't have much work to do. Everyone always told me going into consulting meant I would be busy as hell at all times, but unfortunately it has not worked out like that yet. I feel that I need more professional development to fill my time both in and out of work, because I don't feel like I am earning my paycheck and it takes a bit of a toll on my mental health. I have reviewed all the previous EIT threads on this forum, but they mostly devolved into discussions about the responsibility of billability, and advancing knowledge as an EIT to be competitive. I am signed up for my PE exam already, I study a lot outside of work, and I have a pretty healthy relationship with my supervisor regarding discussing workload, things are just light for EITs because we have a lot of mid level engineers with higher rates that are more attractive for many tasks.

All that being said, I am wondering how folks spent their time as an EIT both in and out of work? Thinking about a side gig or starting some kind of side business because I don't really know what to do otherwise.

Thanks!

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

Write code or spreadsheets to automate design and analysis tasks.
Go out into the field and see how structures etc are actually built, construction sequencing, contractor methods, etc.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

Get involved with your professional societies and attend every event you can. Volunteer to help in the leadership of those organizations.

Can you assist/learn from some of the mid-level folks? Study what they are doing.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

(OP)
@TigerGuy

Do you have any anecdotes for making use of professional societies? I thought about joining a few but they each have membership fees so I wanted to make sure I take advantage of the membership properly, but I like the idea I will look into it further, thank you.

I do learn quite a bit from the mid-level folks, hopefully that will translate into more work one day.

@SWComposites

I will ask about going into the field to learn, I appreciate this suggestion thanks.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

Don't ask permission; only ask forgiveness if absolutely necessary. :)

You can usually check out the local professional society meetings without first joining.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

Yep, find ASCE, NSPE, and other group calendars. There's usually a way to attend as a guest. Check with local University departments for seminars, these can be great opportunities to build your network.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

3
wright44…

I graduated in 1980, just ahead of a recession. I started out in a small office of a mid-sized company. My office had 3 civil PEs (the boss, with 20 years of experience, a Senior with 15 years, and an Associate with 6 years) and me (EIT), a similar-sized group that did agricultural engineering and agronomy, two drafters, and two admins. The company had 600-ish total employees in 20+ offices.

During my first 12 months, I billed less than 1500 hours to projects because we didn't have enough work suitable for an EIT. And, some of what I billed was actually time I spent "spinning my wheels" because my boss (who was also project manager for more than half of what I was working on) was out of the office most of the time doing marketing and business development (see "recession" above) and he wasn't around to guide me. The other two civil PEs had very little time to help me unless I was working on one of their projects because they both had several construction projects underway. It also didn't help that a significant portion of my work for my boss dealt with types of projects the other two PEs knew little to nothing about. So I struggled and I felt like you have described for yourself. On the other hand, one valuable overhead task that I was given to fill the void was to organize and update our catalog library (yes, we used to have paper catalogs!) and our technical library (yes, we used to have real books and stuff!). This gave me ample time to rub shoulders with the products that we used, the standards and codes that we used, etc. I called many manufacturers and manufacturers reps to get new catalogs, I discovered (for example) that our ASTM standards were more than 10 years old and I got Corporate to buy us a new set, and so on. Still, I would have rather been working on projects.

Even so, they liked me, so when three other offices were looking for one or more in-house EITs, I had my pick of offices to choose from. Fortunately, the office I transferred to was filled to the brim with work and the boss was a technical guru (he was considered one of the two best technical engineers in the entire company). That office was also about three times the size of the office that I transferred out of and it was all civil. IIRC, when I arrived there were 8 or 9 civil PEs and two other EITs. I learned more over the next five years (until I left that company) than during any other five year period in my entire career, which as you might imagine from my graduation date is drawing to a close soon. My new boss was a good teacher and he was in the office most of the time because he dealt with only one client (which at times generated 2/3 of our work) and he wasn't a business developer type. In fact, six months after I transferred, my old boss got transferred to my new office to take over business development. This Batman and Robin team kept us pretty busy with work.

Over the years, I have dealt with a few periods of famine, but mostly it's been feast and your feast could be just around the corner. Most of my work has been public works consulting, which is less variable than, say development consulting, but it is still variable. For example, during the early stages of the pandemic, most of the group that I work with had to cut back to 32 hr/week because our clients had slowed down getting projects to us, getting reviews done, etc. On the other hand, I have one man-year's worth of 90-hours weeks under my belt, which occurred during times when we had far more work under contract than staff to handle it. This consisted of one 7-month stretch, one 4-month stretch (ten of us were on that roller coaster), and four individual weeks. Over the first 30 years of my career, I averaged between 50 and 60 hr/week, but since then I have been more strict about my hours and I rarely now go above 45 hr/week.

I know other engineers whose first year was full of work and learning, only to hit a famine in year two or year three, but then work picked up and they went on.

This is a long way of saying that things change in our profession. We have good times and bad times, and you have suffered through a bad time. However, the demand for civil engineering doesn't go away, so you WILL have good times ahead where you learn and build your skills. It's obviously frustrating, but often there is little we can do about it, especially when we're starting out.

============
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

It's business sense to give the billable work to the senior people and let the EIT twiddle his thumbs. If someone is going to be charging to overhead, let it be the least paid individual. As soon as things catch up, you'll be in demand (EIT=lower rates=more profit). I'd volunteer for whatever scut work there is. Perform calculations, review submittals, organize project files, etc.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

As my old boss said make hay when the sun is shining, AKA overtime all summer break in February. Consulting will always have up and down cycles with the amount of work typically related to the construction season. In the downtime, get better at proposals, contracts, and report writing by reviewing the deliverables from your firm. Learn the work process from start to finish of the project and improve your technical expertise in the parts of the process you are not proficient in. If there is a calculation or analysis that you don't know how to do in one of your reports ask questions and learn so that you at least have a basic understanding of what the task was and how it was done by reviewing the analysis files, so when the next job needs that analysis is contracted with your firm you can raise your hand if your interested or know you want to keep it down.

As for side hustles your likely not going to get a job that pays more than working overtime at your current job. SO becoming an artist, local bar one night a week Rockstar, or woodworking craftsman or messing around with electronics are typical side hustles that are more for enjoyment rather than compensation.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

You may just be working for the wrong consultant. In today's economy most civil consultants should be very busy.
I worked in civil as a technician and we always had 1 or 2 youngsters around, working on their PE. We kept them very busy doing engineer tasks including some field work (mostly inspection).

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

Building on some of the advice here, slow times for EITs are ripe for two main activities - developing automation tools and field experience. You can develop some code spreadsheets, but I would go beyond that and ask the senior engineers in the company for any particular pain points or gaps in their toolbox that you can fill. It has the benefit of giving you some experience, solving a real problem, and endearing yourself to them for helping them for "free."

Beyond that, if you are already having unbillable time, then try to go on the site walkdowns or proposal visits with the other engineers and if asked, you can make it clear that you are not billing this time, but it's for exposure and meeting your wonderful clients. People like to talk about themselves so the car rides and lunches can be valuable learning time, even if you are having to "stay out of the way" while they do the actual work.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

(OP)
Thanks all for the genuine responses. A few folks have suggested site visits so I have reached out to my team lead to try and visit some active construction which seems like a great idea.

@fel3
Thanks for the story that is a really helpful story and I appreciate you sharing that. For reference, my first 6 months I was about 40% billable or around 480 hours of project work out of 1200 hours. This year has been better but I am still looking to get ahead of the curve and get busy. I may just need to stay the course, build skills and remain patient. I appreciate it!


@JedClampett
Yup I believe that is the case with my situation. Just makes sense so I am not really blaming my company or superiors. I think one thing that may be an issue with my company is just having too many EITs for the size of our department. Only so much "scut work" to go around.


@GeoEnvGuy
Fortunately I have had a lot of time to review a lot of these things but I will continue seeking out things I don't understand. Contracts are something I should look into, very unfamiliar for me. Unlike some other disciplines, it feels like the technical aspects of our typical scopes are pretty simple, but that doesn't mean I am an expert by any means. As for the last note, we don't get overtime at my job, is this a typical thing for engineers on salary?


@udraft
I have my concerns for sure, we may just have too many EITs. We can't even do inspections because we have a subgroup in the department (3 full time construction obs/inspectors) that handles inspections. That being said, the benefits are great and pay is adequate, it feels foolish to even consider finding a new job with only 1 year of experience, I don't want to shoot myself in the foot.


@EngrPaper
I really like the suggestions to get out into the field. I have reached out to my department lead about trying to see some construction sites and he said he will set something up. This is an area I am very weak at which is probably typical of fresh EITs coming out of school. I don't really know much about construction so looking forward to it. As for site walks, my superiors tend not to take EITs and are against the idea of it for various reasons, one being they believe if too many people show up the client will think our team is bloated or something like that. They tend to just send the principle and project manager.

I have developed some spreadsheets to try and help out the department, some of which have been useful. The company I work at is small but very established so many of the processes are streamlined already. Also, unlike maybe mechanical or geotech or other very technical disciplines, it feels like the technical aspects of our work (water/wastewater) are pretty simple fluid mechanics. Not a ton to design fancy code for, but I will brainstorm.






RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

Well, to be blunt, your mgmt not taking EIT’s out into the field is just stupid.

See if you can tag along on some inspections also.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

Your manager should be trying to keep you at least involved. Even if they don’t have time to guide you completely they should give you basic instructions to review a code/design book or something to develop you. I had 2 mechanical interns this year which isn’t typical being a civil company but they need experience. They had very little background knowledge when it came to civil but one of them was very motivated and the two worked as a team to keep things moving when I couldn’t be available. They asked 100s of questions and I think in the end they came out with a fairly good understanding of basic civil engineering principles. If you can ask if you can help someone, calculation reviews are huge and often a deep dive, checking assumptions, making sure the concepts work out and the links are right. As an engineer I want someone to rip my work apart and understand what I am doing and find any flaws. The person without any knowledge will ask a bunch of questions that might end up catching a mistake.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

Quote (Wright44)

As for the last note, we don't get overtime at my job, is this a typical thing for engineers on salary?

The large and medium consulting firms I worked for have weekly billable hours reporting required AKA timesheets. At the end of the year your trying to get to 52x40 hours totaling 2080 hours between chargeable and non chargeable holidays and sick days etc. In the summer it is typical to work over 40 hours a week and bank time for the slow periods. I have worked for firms which pay overtime flat rate if you work more than the 2080 hours per year and a firm which allows you to bill but not get compensated for over 2080 hours.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

Not to get too off track, but following the above on overtime. Of the firms that I have worked at, time over 40 per week (or time over 80 per 2 weeks) was paid at your straight time right. It wasn't an annual accounting - that seems like an odd way of doing it. To my knowledge, all of the large multidisciplinary industrial firms are like this. Perhaps other industries in consulting (residential, commercial) do it differently?

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

(OP)
I do appreciate the perspectives.

I completely understand companies tracking on an annual basis, as that is the way my company does it. My end of year review is essentially a review of my utilization suite, and if I beat my targets that makes me eligible for a higher bonus which is determined at the end of the fiscal year. Although to be honest after thinking about it, getting paid overtime at a flat rate seems like a way simpler and potentially more fair way of getting compensated for your effort.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

My company gives us comp time for any hours worked beyond the regular 8/40. If we don't use the comp time, we're paid off at the end of the year at straight time rates.
To me, it's simple. Why report time you're not getting paid for? And if you noodle it out, the company makes more money off your extra hours then your regular 40 hours. They've paid the rent, and your medical coverage, vacation, etc. is all based on your 2080-hour nut.

RE: Where to invest time as an EIT

When I was right out of school, I worked for a company that was paying me a 40 hour salary and working me 70 hours a week. They billed the clients for all 70 hours.

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