The future is strong for careers in civil engineering
Increasing attention to improving America’s infrastructure promises a growing need for civil engineers. Diversity is key
“ASCE is committed to recognizing those doing fantastic things in the field, in hopes that they will inspire the next generation of civil engineers.” – Constance V.A. Thompson, American Society of Civil Engineers
By Adriene Marshall
Unemployment among U.S. engineers is just 2 percent, one of the lowest for any profession. For civil engineers, activity in environmental water resources, pipelines, transportation and construction in general has meant increased opportunities in recent years, says Constance V.A. Thompson, senior manager of diversity at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). These areas are doing well because of increased attention to infrastructure in the U.S., she reports.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that civil engineering is expected to be one of the fastest-growing occupations this decade, with anticipated job growth of 19 percent by 2020, Thompson notes. For civil engineering technicians and environmental engineers, who are not included in the civil engineering data, the rate of job growth is anticipated to be 12 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
“Of all the engineering disciplines, civil has been most successful in attracting women and Hispanics to the profession,” Thompson adds. Women make up 13 percent of the civil engineering workforce, and Hispanics make up about 5 percent. African Americans account for 4 percent, and Asian Americans for nearly 8 percent, according to BLS data.
For the past decade, the ASCE has partnered with the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Engineering Pro Active Network and the National Engineers Week Foundation. With the foundation, ASCE established the “New Faces of Civil Engineering” recognition program. “Every year, we highlight ten up-and-coming civil engineers under age thirty from diverse backgrounds,” Thompson explains. “As a professional society, ASCE is committed to recognizing our members who are doing fantastic things in the field, in hopes that they will inspire the next generation of civil engineers.”
Black & Veatch offers engineers variety of work, diversity of thought
Black & Veatch Corporation (Overland Park, KS) is a global engineering, consulting and construction company. It’s been in business since 1915 and employs about 10,000 professionals.
“Black & Veatch specializes in energy, water, telecommunications, federal contracting and management consulting,” says Theresa Bridges, diversity and military outreach lead. The company provides engineering and design, construction and construction management, and procurement services.
“Civil engineers at all experience levels can transition easily between the divisions. For mid-career professionals, we offer senior design positions, as well as engineer management and project management,” Bridges reports.
“Black & Veatch values and promotes an inclusive and diverse workplace where differences are respected and individual contributions are valued and rewarded,” she adds. “Diversity in the workplace is extremely valuable to our business as we seek to attract and retain the best and the brightest technical minds and enhance our relationship with clients and stakeholders in the communities where we live and work.”
Adriana Aguilar works with transmission lines at Black & Veatch
Adriana Aguilar, who has been with Black & Veatch for nearly two years, is a civil and structural engineer in the energy division. As part of the power delivery department, she works under the leadership of project managers in the overhead transmission line group. Her group reports clearance violations, addresses foundation or structural problems, designs new transmission lines and more.
“Right now, I’m part of the team designing and doing the structural work on a new transmission line in Nebraska,” she says.
Aguilar grew up in Howe, IN. In high school, a teacher invited her to an event hosted by the Women in Engineering program at Purdue University (Lafayette, IN). “I liked the fact that engineering used math and science to problem-solve,” Aguilar recalls. “And I really wanted to make a difference.”
Aguilar studied civil engineering at Purdue, and graduated with a BSCE in 2011. In her junior year, she did an internship with Black & Veatch.
“I decided I liked Black & Veatch and the variety of work they do,” says Aguilar. “So after I finished my BSCE, I accepted a full-time offer.”
Black & Veatch has a mentoring program in which the company pairs new hires with experienced professionals. “In a field that is predominately male, it can be challenging sometimes for women to find mentors,” Aguilar notes. “I found the program very helpful.”
Diversity at HNTB: part of everyday practice
HNTB Corporation, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, is an employee-owned infrastructure firm with 3,600 employees in more than sixty offices serving public and private owners and contractors.
At the beginning of 2013 there were 170 open positions across the U.S. for experienced civil and other engineers, including project directors, senior project managers, and department managers, says Amy Simmons, associate vice president and director of talent management. Among HNTB’s current projects are the 6th Street Bridge in Los Angeles, CA, the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, NH, San Diego International Airport’s Terminal 2 West Building and Airside Expansion, and the Alaskan Way Tunnel in Seattle, WA.
HNTB has a number of initiatives to foster diversity. One of the most recent is the brainchild of Karen Herndon, staffing operations manager. “It’s a military translator, in partnership with one of our job boards on the HNTB.com/careers site, to help veterans returning to the workplace search for suitable positions,” says Simmons. Another initiative is a sophisticated recruiting and selection training course for all hiring managers.
“Outreach today must be something that’s done on a daily basis versus a written policy that is referred to on an as-needed basis,” Simmons notes. “If you can turn diversity into an action each employee can contribute to every day, then it becomes more real.”
Sanja Zlatanic brings broad experience and fresh focus to HNTB
Sanja Zlatanic, a chief tunneling engineer, began working at HNTB in 2011 after more than twenty years in the profession.
“Joining HNTB has given me a fresh focus on the design-build aspect of the business,” Zlatanic says. “And I offer the company continuous innovations, and the assurance of the best value for the investment.” HNTB recently won independent design review services for the $1.3 billion Istanbul Strait Road Tube Crossing in Turkey, a challenging undertaking for which Zlatanic is the project manager.
Zlatanic was raised in the former Yugoslavia during Marshal Tito’s regime. “Because the country received financial help from both the East and the West during the Cold War, the basics of life were almost guaranteed for everyone. But this also meant that material gains were beyond reach, so I realized the only way to differentiate myself from the crowd was via academic achievements,” she says. “My strong drive toward engineering was a result of my father’s influence: he was an engineer specializing in heavy metallurgy.”
After graduating in the top 5 percent of her class from the University of Belgrade’s School of Civil Engineering in 1987, Zlatanic worked for a Yugoslavian engineering company with strong overseas operations, especially in Africa, the Middle East and Russia. Zlatanic left Yugoslavia in 1990 to settle in New York, and landed a job with Parsons Brinckerhoff. Among the projects she worked on were the design for the 63rd Street subway connection, the reconstruction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, design and construction of the Weehawken Tunnel, and the Bergenline Avenue Station in New Jersey.
Being a woman has been an advantage in the field of tunneling and underground engineering, Zlatanic says. “Since I go against the stereotype of the typical civil engineer, people listen more carefully to what I have to say.”
National Grid: actively seeking engineers
In the U.S., National Grid distributes electricity and natural gas to more than seven million customers in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. U.S. headquarters are in Westborough, MA; world HQ are in London, U.K.
Engineering projects focus on new and upgraded substations, gas pipe-lines, regulator stations, transmission tower lines, and other transmission and distribution-related projects. National Grid delivers distributed generation including solar and wind, and the company is embarking on the deployment of a Smart Grid pilot program in Worcester, MA.
“This summer, we will be looking for several experienced civil, mechanical, electrical, and structural engineers for our transmission and distribution group, as well as engineers for intern opportunities in various departments,” says William Bollbach III, SVP of HR and chief diversity officer at National Grid.
He adds, “Inclusion and diversity (I&D) at National Grid is considered an integral part of how every single employee thinks and acts. I&D helps us reach our goals by encouraging collaborative internal and external relationships. Our goal is for the communities we serve to welcome our presence as service providers, employers and community partners.”
Lisa Sasur manages transmission project engineering at National Grid
Lisa Sasur, manager of transmission project engineering at National Grid, has been at the company for nearly nine years.
“Our department is responsible for the engineering and design of solutions to build, maintain and improve the performance of high-voltage electric transmission lines across New England and upstate New York,” Sasur says. “I advise on a large variety of projects, and focus on developing my team to be the best engineers and designers in our field.”
Growing up in Palmer, MA, Sasur always loved the challenge of fitting parts together and recognizing patterns. Her father encouraged her to explore a career in engineering. “He was confident that I would enjoy engineering, and he was right,” she says.
Sasur graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI, Worcester, MA) in 2004 with a BS in civil engineering. Soon after graduation, she started at National Grid. Over the years, she has obtained her Professional Engineer license, as well as a Project Management Professional certification. She also has an MBA from WPI.
“When I was hired at National Grid, I was the first female engineer to work in the transmission engineering department,” Sasur says. “My manager and colleagues were supportive and helped me improve my technical skills and achieve my career goals. Now as a manager myself, I aim to give the same support to each individual on my team.”
Hiring outlook for engineers is strong at Southern Company
Atlanta-based Southern Company provides energy to 4.4 million customers in the Southeast U.S. According to company spokesperson Steve Higginbottom, Southern Company hires civil engineers for a wide range of career opportunities in areas from power transmission and distribution to power generation, environmental retrofit and new generation projects.
“Like the utility industry as a whole, Southern Company has a workforce, including engineers, who will be increasingly eligible to retire over the next ten years,” according to Higginbottom. “So the outlook for careers in engineering at Southern Company and the utility industry as a whole is positive.”
Southern Company has received industry recognition as a top military employer and as a top company for African Americans.
“Southern Company contributes to the growth and vitality of our communities by nurturing our local partnerships and relationships with diverse suppliers, and ensuring that our workforce is a reflection of our communities,” Higginbottom says.
Tammy Upchurch of Southern Company: engineering supervisor and mentor
Tammy Upchurch, engineering supervisor in civil design at Southern Company, manages thirty engineers and designers. Much of the work in her group involves retrofit projects for Southern Company plants. Projects vary in scope and size, and might include upgrading large flue gas ducts that are typically twenty by forty feet. “It’s rewarding and challenging work for structural engineers,” she adds.
Upchurch, who is from Clanton, AL, received a BS in civil engineering from the University of Alabama in 1989. After graduation, she began her career as a structural engineer at a large engineering company in Birmingham.
After nine years, Upchurch negotiated with the department head to work part time while her children were young. This was a first for the company, which at the time had only one other female engineer in the 120-person division. When she was ready to go back to work full time, she chose Southern Company. “Women are well represented at all levels at Southern,” says Upchurch. “It’s a refreshing environment.”
Upchurch recalls a conversation she had with her high school guidance counselor about her interest in an engineering career. “I remember distinctly that she told me that I couldn’t do that because it was a man’s job,” Upchurch says. “I was determined to prove her wrong.”
Southern Company is involved with several outreach programs that cater to middle and high school students. “I participate in these programs every opportunity I can,” says Upchurch. “What I like to tell the girls is to be confident, find a mentor, and do what you enjoy. Even when you choose a career in a male-dominated field, you’ll find that we all bring different perspectives to the table.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission: no room for error
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC, Rockville, MD) is an independent agency of the U.S. government that oversees nuclear reactor safety and security, reactor licensing and renewal, radioactive material safety, and spent fuel management. The agency has about 4,000 employees, says Victor McCree, Region II administrator.
In addition to its headquarters, the NRC has regional offices in King of Prussia, PA, which services the northeast U.S. and Puerto Rico (Region I); Atlanta, GA, responsible for the southeast, as well as all operating fuel cycle facilities in the U.S. (Region II); Lyle, IL, which services the midwest (Region III); and Arlington, TX, responsible for the area west of the Mississippi River and Guam (Region IV).
“We employ a diverse group of engineers with all types of educational backgrounds, from all levels of prior work experience, and from the private sector, the military, and other government agencies,” says McCree. “This diversity helps us increase the depth of our skill set.”
The NRC recognizes its role as a high-reliability organization (HRO) regulating an industry with great public health and safety risks, McCree points out. “One of the components that makes for the success of an HRO is its deference to expertise,” he says, “and we need expertise in civil and structural engineering.”
McCree points out that the NRC is one of the most diverse agencies in the federal government. About 40 percent of NRC employees are women, 15 percent are African American, 10 percent are Asian/Pacific American, and more than 6 percent are Hispanic.
McCree has been with the NRC for twenty-five years. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD), he served as an officer on a nuclear submarine. From there he began his career with the NRC as a resident inspector working from the headquarters office.
“I had the opportunity to visit the more than 100 nuclear reactors around the country,” McCree notes. “I also worked as a licensing project manager on both operating reactors and new reactor designs.” He appreciates the variety of positions he’s held at the commission.
Through the years, McCree also has worked closely with the NRC’s executive director for operations, as well as the NRC’s former chairman. McCree held several key leadership posts leading up to his current position.
“We only need to think about where the world was in 2011 following the events of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan to recognize the importance of nuclear safety,” McCree says. “At the NRC there are about 4,000 people working on behalf of the public to ensure their safety, making sure an event like that does not happen here.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES SEEKING CIVIL AND STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS
Check websites for details.
|Company and location
|AECOM Technology Corp (Los Angeles, CA)
|Technical and management support services
|American Water (Voorhees, NJ)
|Water and wastewater utility services in more than thirty states
|Black & Veatch (Overland Park, KS)
|Engineering, consulting, construction, and
|BP America (Houston, TX)
|Oil and gas production
|HNTB (Kansas City, MO)
|Architecture, civil engineering consulting and construction management
|Nammo Talley (Mesa, AZ)
|Design, development and production of
|National Grid (Westborough, MA; London, UK)
|International electricity and natural gas
production, transmission and delivery
|Southern Company (Atlanta, GA)
|Turner Construction Company (New York, NY)
|Preconstruction, construction management, and consulting services
|Union Pacific (Omaha, NE)
|Freight transportation and logisticse
|U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
|Nuclear reactor safety and security oversight,
licensing and renewal
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