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Many American workers produce pixels, ephemeral motes of light, but those who work in the civil and structural sector build the roads that take us to work, the buildings that house our offices and cubicles, and even the water and sewage systems.
The good thing is that you can tender all due gratitude to those who’ve given us our modern conveniences. But even better than that, you can consider joining these sectors.
The pay is commensurate with the importance of the work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with the national average salary for an entry-level civil engineer being $67,484, while the median pay for a construction engineer is $82,220. Plus, BLS forecasts greater than average job growth in these sectors.
The ultimate reward is driving to work on a road you helped build and past buildings you helped construct, all the while knowing your work literally paved the way for others to do the same. These are clearly essential sectors. And here are some professionals thriving in them, always looking to build the future through their work.
Josephine Miles, a project engineer for Wood PLC, is the antithesis of a spa worker, for she encourages discomfort.
“In my career I’ve always sought out positions or roles that make me uncomfortable,” she explains.
“It can be scary, but sometimes it can be exciting. Keeping myself ‘uncomfortable’ has made me grow, and also given me a broader knowledge base. That’s been helpful when the industry has gone into a lull and work is harder to find.”
Of course, working outside of your comfort zone requires adaptive strategies, according to Miles. “You can learn from anyone or any project/role/position you are in. Be curious and ask questions. Ask people what they do, what tools are helpful and how they got to where they are.”
That’s easy to apply at Wood PLC where Miles’ 55,000 colleagues and the company have her back. “My company treats people and puts them first. The people are what makes my job so enjoyable, and the technical content keeps me challenged.”
Miles’ role also keeps her challenged, as she facilitates and assists communication between disciplines, supports and guides project team goals and vision, and provides a technical contact point for clients.”
Miles’ colleagues also enjoy challenges. “When I first started working here over 10 years ago, I heard laughter and still do to this day.”
Like Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, Miles urges women to lean in like men.
“‘Lean in’ women often go for positions they know they can already do while men often go for positions that they think they can do or grow into. So apply for the position you think you can do. Again, it’s good to be uncomfortable. It makes you grow and, in turn, learn.”
Miles applied her advice to her own career: “A particular highlight in my career that’s made a huge difference is my field experience during construction. It’s been extremely beneficial in how I approach engineering and design. I pushed for field experience at my company having been told previously how helpful it would be.”
If you’re overwhelmed, then change your approach, Miles advises.
“When I was studying physics in college, I was struggling to grasp concepts and pass exams,” she recalls. “I’d always studied by myself, so I looked for external help. I started studying in study groups and with tutors.”
And don’t proceed in your career willy-nilly, she further counsels. “Brainstorm what your ideal life looks like, both personally and professionally, and then develop smart goals with time frames and people who might help you achieve them.”
And whatever your goals, tap your most important asset. “Remember to communicate your professional desires to your spouse/partner. They play a key role in supporting you,” she concludes.
Wood is globally headquartered in Aberdeen, U.K., with more than 400 offices around the world, including the U.S. Peruse job openings at woodplc.com/careers, and learn more via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+.
Dominguez Gonzalez’s Work at WSP Restores the Everglades
Whether building the massive main stadium of the U.S. Open, San Francisco, CA’s tallest tower or overseeing America’s largest ecosystem restoration project ever, WSP is there. Camille Dominguez Gonzalez, director of project operations, is part of the massive Everglades restoration project. And she stepped right up to the expansive restoration project.
“It’s a 10,000-acre site where we clean the water before it hits the coast. It’s a massive man-made wetland, and you know you did something huge and important. We made the world better, and you can see that every day,” she proudly points out.
It’s also a project that requires Dominguez Gonzalez to don a couple of hats: “I wear two. One is the hat of a water resources engineer, and the other is more project operations. That’s a manager’s hat.”
Whatever her hat, she gets to doff it at day’s end and go home. “I love the culture here at WSP. It’s very collegial, and there’s a real work/life balance.”
It’s also a culture that permits connections, according to Dominguez Gonzalez.
“At most places, you get so caught up in the project you forget to connect with your colleagues, but at WSP, there’s great value in fostering collaboration in everything that we do, so you get to talk about projects, and brainstorm innovative ideas, and discuss what your clients want you to do in a stimulating work environment. Our engineers are so passionate about their work, and feel empowered to provide open and honest feedback. Your voice matters at WSP.”
The work matters, too, she adds. “I love the projects. We can drive by and see the work we’ve done. In WSP you can work on whatever you can imagine. You have opportunities to work everywhere and on everything, doing huge, essential projects that impact hundreds of millions of people.”
Of course, all engineers have challenges to surmount and processes to improve.
“Engineers are problem-solvers who are constantly searching for innovative ways to enhance consistency and transparency, and better utilize resources across the sector,” says Dominguez Gonzalez.
“However, delivering solutions can require change, and people are resistant to change, for we follow what’s familiar and comfortable.”
So Dominguez Gonzalez learned to embrace change. “I’ve learned to be flexible and to encourage team members who fear the change process to be part of the dialogue, to listen to feedback and work on solutions to address the challenges ahead.”
Change is a mainstay and requires conversations. “Change is the only constant in this business, and by being a catalyst for change, it’s an opportunity for everyone else and me to develop and grow.”
In fact, Dominguez Gonzalez has always targeted growth. “I have both an MBA and undergraduate degree in engineering, so I get to mix engineering and business, and at WSP there are endless opportunities to learn, whether it’s a workshop on design technology or engaging in our mentoring program.”
But if you really want to climb the ladder, then volunteer, she urges.
“When you see an opportunity or need, speak up. Managers can be so busy that they might not have the time to consider all options. If you speak up, then you might make it happen for yourself. I was helping the staff in the Southeast region when my current role opened up, and I stepped forward.”
Dominguez Gonzalez has never looked back. “I absolutely love my current role, and it happened because I took the initiative and stepped forward.”
And don’t hesitate to exceed expectations.
“If you think you’re spending too much time on something as a volunteer, then that might not be a bad thing. It might lead to more opportunities.”
One of 7,000 WSP employees in the U.S., Dominguez Gonzalez reaches outside WSP, too.
“I work with different professional associations. That’s helped my career because I can see what other companies do. We don’t work alone. Those relationships that I’ve developed in the professional societies make me a more effective engineer. It’s all about making connections, sharing knowledge and collaborating toward a better future.”
WSP is globally headquartered in Montreal, Canada, with 550 offices around the world including those in the U.S. Explore job openings at wsp.com/en-US/careers, and learn more about WSP via Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Kim’s Early Career Shift Opens World of Opportunities
Mi Kim’s career isn’t what she expected, but it’s perfect for her. Kim is a project engineer, contract administration at Kiewit, a big company that manages to feel cozy.
“Kiewit is a big company - we’re talking 22,000 employees - but in some…way, it feels small,” she notes.
“I’ve shared dinner and lunch with our CEO, and had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a few of our executives on issues that are related to my personal career, which is something that I don’t believe many large companies have.”
Working at a big company in the civil/structural sectors means you get to work on big projects around the world.
“I’ve held numerous job titles and worked in the U.S., Canada and even South Korea supporting Kiewit’s construction and engineering projects across North America.”
Kim’s diverse work experiences are common at Kiewit. “In my company and in my job, I get to interact with people from a wide range of backgrounds (cultural/familial, educational and interests) who do a number of different jobs within the company.”
She enjoys working with such diverse teammates. “I enjoy learning about what makes people unique as individuals, and how that shapes their contributions to the team.”
Kiewit’s diverse workforce enables it to undertake diverse projects across sectors, which include building, mining, gas, oil and chemical, power, transportation and water/wastewater. It overcomes challenges in far-flung and demanding environments. Kim does the same by being cool and analytical.
“For everything that has a potential to create conflict or is a difficult situation, I’ve tried to always take a few steps back, focus on the facts, cut out emotions and face the problem head on while seeking advice as required along the way,” she explains.
Kim also tapped an unexpected source for sagacity: a hockey goalie. “One of my mentors once referred me to an interview with Carey Price, the goalie for the Montreal Canadiens,” she elaborates.
“In that interview Price talks about an old saying, ‘You’re never as bad as everybody says, and you’re not as good as everybody says’ in reference to shutting out all of the external noise and only focusing on the things that you need to do to be successful.”
Those words help keep Kim focused on the true task. “It’s always in the back of my mind, and keeps me grounded and level-headed.”
Kim is currently the prime contract administrator for a large energy project and is responsible to help ensure the rest of the project team follows contract conditions. However, her role isn’t where she expected to be.
“I graduated high school with the idea I wanted to pursue an aerospace engineering degree to go work for NASA. I completed a mechanical-aerospace engineering degree, and before graduating, I landed an opportunity with Kiewit working in construction,” she reveals.
Kiewit is, however, where she wants to be. “I’ve been here for 11 years, and I’ve never wondered what it would be like to work for NASA instead.”
Kim believes that engineers will eventually reach the right role, one way or another.
“’What’s meant for you will never go past you’ is a piece of advice given to me in reference to something that was not career-related, but it’s applicable to all aspects of my life,” she shares.
“You’ll always end up where you’re meant to be, even if that journey has many goat trails and detours along the way. Be patient!”
And wherever you are, be your best. “Another solid piece of advice came from one of our executives, and it is to always give 100%. There’s no more to give after that, and if our 100% is not enough, then we’re in the wrong place doing the wrong things.”
Kiewit is headquartered in Omaha, NE. Explore careers at kiewit.com/careers, and learn more about Kiewit via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Foster Rises to the Challenge at CDM Smith
Allyson N. Foster, PE of CDM Smith, Inc. draws a straight line between engineering disciplines and opportunity.
“With the country’s aging infrastructure and increasingly populated urban areas, the transportation industry is in great demand of aspiring engineers to solve tomorrow’s problems. Whether improving existing facilities or creating new routes, transportation engineering will always be needed.”
Foster can foresee coming needs, as she focuses today on various areas of transportation engineering. These include system analysis, safety analysis, traffic impact studies, transportation planning and geometric design.
However, for Foster, transportation engineering is about more than steady employment.
“I’ve always wanted to challenge myself to solve difficult problems. Transportation engineering provides these opportunities. Even as things evolve, such as with technology or modes of travel, I must stay ahead of the curve to tackle any issues that may arise.”
At CDM Smith, Inc. there are also opportunities to work pretty much wherever you want.
“We’re a very diverse company with more than 5,000 employees spread across 25 countries and U.S. territories. My local office is highly regarded for our transportation expertise and often works on transportation projects in distant locations,” the transportation engineer points out.
It’s not just the work locations that are diverse and interesting, she adds. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with several engineers of differing backgrounds. I’ve also had the opportunity to collaborate with several of our offices around the U.S. and abroad. Working in these different locations provides me new perspectives and opportunities that I use to build and complement my skill set.”
Part of Foster’s skill set, given her work environments, is safety first.
“Some of my time is spent outside the office observing and monitoring traffic conditions in the field. Though safety is an obvious priority at work, the seriousness of the matter arose when a coworker was injured performing a similar task beside the road due to distracted driving.”
It’s a challenge that continues to grow. “This accident reminded me of the dangers of distracted driving that are increasing every day, but assured me to always take the necessary steps to guarantee my personal safety. I use this awareness and take careful precautions to ensure my safety in these environments.”
However, the job’s perks surpass its challenges, notes Foster.
“There’s always a new dynamic with my job. I’ve been able to work on various types of projects in many different cities, even internationally,” she says. “Many times I’ve traveled to places I wouldn’t have considered or had the opportunity to visit had it not been for my job.”
CDM Smith is headquartered in Boston, MA. Explore careers at cdmsmith.com/en/Careers and learn more about CDM Smith, Inc. at Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Black & Veatch’s Porter Keeps the Power On
Adriana Porter, as a civil and project engineer, works on the design of overhead power lines in the overhead transmission line group at Black & Veatch, but she took no classes in transmission line design in college. Her story is not uncommon.
“When you graduate college, you’ll most likely be working on something you didn’t directly see in your studies,” Porter points out. “I certainly never learned anything specific to transmission lines in college.”
Your first days can be daunting. However, you’ll get up to speed, she assures, adding, “Don’t be scared of on-the-job training!”
In fact, it’s essential to maximize that on-the-job training, according to Porter.
“Make sure you’re engaged at work, ask questions and look for the similarities on things you already know - you’ll be surprised,” she advises.
“For me, I hadn’t ever worked on transmission line structures, but I did have classes on statics and foundations. There were new things to learn, but don’t forget that you did learn the basics in school.”
Black & Veatch (B&V) employs about 11,000 professionals worldwide, and those employees are also the owners. “We’re an employee-owned, global leader in building critical human infrastructure in energy, water, telecommunications and government services,” she describes.
Porter is proud of her part in building critical infrastructure, too. “I also like that we’re making a difference by delivering electricity!”
She additionally likes Black & Veatch’s reach and human resources. “Black & Veatch is a global company with projects all across the world! While my projects are based in the U.S., I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with individuals of diverse backgrounds and locations. The people at B&V are intelligent, and I’m always learning from others.”
Porter amplifies her learning by simply asking, again and again: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions!”
The payoff comes in a big job well done. “Nothing beats the sense of accomplishment when you finish a design task on your own.
That payoff came early on for Porter. “I had the opportunity to work on a complete rebuild of a transmission line early in my career. By this client’s typical standards, the project was lengthy in time. However, it was a great (and my first!) opportunity to see a project of that magnitude from start to finish.”
She tapped an elder engineer’s wisdom in the process. “The engineering manager had been on several field assignments throughout his career. He provided insight to the project and challenged us to make decisions that would facilitate construction. The project was successful, and I walked away with so many new skills.”
Porter urges you to tap available talent: “Make sure you fully understand the task at hand and are aware of all the resources you have available. Asking questions will put you on the right path and also makes your team aware of your progress. If you truly understand why something is done the way it is, then you can take it a step farther and look for ways to do something better.”
Reaching out does more than further your learning. It also connects you to your colleagues.
“I’ve met so many people outside my immediate working group by attending lunch-and-learns, recruiting at career fairs, participating in employee resource groups, and through special projects. Don’t be shy about raising your hand and volunteering to do more.”
Black & Veatch is also reaching out for new talent, according to Porter. “Black & Veatch is growing faster than ever before, and we’re always on the hunt for talented professionals with a variety of backgrounds and specialties,” she encourages.
Black & Veatch is headquartered in Overland Park, KS. View current openings at careers.bv.com and @BlackVeatchJobs on Twitter, and learn more via LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
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