How Is Our Industry Changing?
Anna Grimes, Civil Engineering Department Manager
Engineers are becoming more involved in projects at the planning stage. This is especially important when the designs cater to people with limited mobility, or those with cognitive impairments, such as medical and senior living facilities. ADA requirements cannot be an afterthought. Architects and land planners are trained to consider this larger vision, but engineers often focus primarily on the details of functionality. So, learning to see things from both perspectives is the way of the future.
Clients are also becoming more and more engaged in the design process. They want to know “why” and “how,” instead of sitting back and waiting for the finished product. Communication, and erring on the side of over-communicating, is becoming the norm. Most of us tend to be introverted and content with crunching numbers behind a computer all day long.
This new trend requires us to be comfortable with people, able to break down the technical components of our work into a language that non-technical people can understand, be capable of developing our creativity and/or be able to recognize the creativity in what we do. Any engineer can make water roll downhill, size a pipe, or design a road to meet local agency requirements. But do they have the “soft skills” needed to work collaboratively? We’re working on it!
Environmental sensitivity is also key in our work. We must be cognizant of wetlands, conservation efforts, and work with the natural environment; preserving trees, views and landforms when possible. The “scorched-earth” policies of yesteryear are gone, and now we strive to save existing environmental elements and find creative ways to incorporate them into our developments. Protecting the environment for future generations is on everyone’s mind.
I also fully expect that we will soon start incorporating Virtual Reality into our work. Our clients want to see a finished product, not imagine it. Our younger employees are so technologically advanced because they have grown up in a world of mobile communication and instant answers. I can see our design software evolving to provide more advanced and sophisticated outputs. I can even imagine construction documents in Virtual Reality, instead of paper drawings.
Just as Bob Dylan sang, "the times, they are a-changing!" I’m excited for the changes that I have already seen, and I look forward to witnessing more developments.
Civil Engineering Department Manager