As of 2016, there were 303,500 civil engineers in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Reviewing current trends, the bureau projects an additional 32,200 engineers by 2026. However, experts say there are simply just not enough engineers now. Jeff Pratt, president of the County Engineers Association of California (CEAC) and the agency director of Ventura County Public Works, said when the economy is good, new engineers for the public sector are hard to come by.
“One of the things we’re noticing is we’re not getting as many people applying for jobs. It’s largely because things are heating up and the private sector is picking people up,” Pratt said. “But a lack of engineers graduating from college continues to be a trend. We’re adapting to that.”
Another industry indicator being tracked by Pratt and association members is increasing bid prices, which are coming in higher than initial estimates. He explained that this trend means there is a lot of work going on, allowing companies to be more selective in the jobs they choose and to bid at higher rates for services. Bid prices have picked up quickly in the past few months, Pratt added.
Public sector agencies are not necessarily able to increase their budgets to meet higher bid rates, according to Pratt. Because of this dynamic, increased costs for cities means fewer projects will be completed, with the remaining jobs being delayed until the next fiscal year or until a new funding source becomes available, he added.
Pratt said that transportation projects are in the spotlight due to the passage of Senate Bill 1, which was signed into law in April 2017 and calls for $54 billion in investments to fix roads, freeways and bridges statewide. However, due to backlash from the residents over the 12-cent gas tax that funds these projects, counties are rushing to complete backlogged transportation projects just in case the law is repealed in the future, Pratt explained.
Patty Romo, director for the transportation department of Riverside County and the Southern California regional director at CEAC, said the county has seen a steady pace of new developments over the last eight years. New housing tracts in particular are being built more frequently, she said, which means more work for engineers to develop site plans and necessary infrastructure. Romo explained that her department is small, and outsources much of its engineering work to private companies.
“We rely heavily on engineering consultants to help us with these projects,” Romo said. “What we are finding is we have more work than they have ability to complete for us, so we are having to get in line. There just are not enough civil engineering people to handle the workload we have right now. I see that as a problem going forward.”
The number of fields where engineering intersects with emerging technologies is rising exponentially, according to Austin Lin, president of the California Society of Professional Engineers, a nonprofit organization that represents and advocates for professional engineers. Two primary changes in the industry include the use of new technologies such as virtual and augmented reality to examine structures pre-construction, and increasing public safety through technology, Lin explained.
Principal, MHP Structural Engineering
MHP is a structural engineering firm that provides consulting in new design, seismic evaluation and retrofit, and structural due diligence. Our services are provided throughout Southern California and the western United States where seismic risk is a key factor affecting buildings. We have seen 15% consecutive growth in volume the past few years and opportunities for continued growth do not appear to be slowing.
The high demand is the result of numerous factors. The strong overall economy increases opportunities in the private sector, such as new buildings and renovations, and accounts for much of this demand. The education sector is also very strong, both in the K-12 and higher education areas, as school districts have passed local bonds for facility improvements, and higher education campuses are growing to meet increased enrollments.
Increased emphasis on addressing the seismic vulnerability of existing buildings in the private sector is also driving demand for structural engineering services. The public sector has had seismic programs in effect for many years, requiring evaluation of California State University and University of California campus buildings, acute care hospital buildings and more, for decades. However, with a few exceptions like unreinforced masonry buildings, private and commercial buildings have largely not been addressed until recently. In the past few years, several cities have passed mandatory ordinances requiring evaluation of certain types of buildings with known vulnerabilities, and the strengthening of those buildings that do not meet certain safety standards. These programs are an important step to reduce safety hazards and to increase the resiliency of our cities.
Vice President, SCS Engineers
SCS Engineers specializes in environmental engineering and consulting. Our work is generally driven by regulatory programs and the real estate market. California has one of the most robust environmental programs in the nation and, despite what may happen at the federal level, it is not likely to significantly affect rules and regulations in California and in fact may become more stringent. Companies with business in California recognize the value in hiring companies such as SCS to help comply with rules and regulations, so the compliance side of our business is expected to remain strong through the end of 2018.
In addition, the real estate market and construction/building industry remain very strong. This strong market has resulted in more interest in impaired properties/Brownfields, including former landfills, that years ago could not be economically redeveloped or even considered for redevelopment. This part of our market is very strong and we expect this market to continue to remain healthy well into 2019.
Recent increases in funding for large public transportation programs (rail, highway expansions, etc.) should also help buoy the environmental market. These projects likely will need to pass through areas where impacted properties are present, so some assessment and cleanup are generally required, which also results in work for the practice area.
Oil prices appear to be rebounding, which signals a recovery in the oil and gas business. As that market recovers, the industry will begin to spend more money on environmental programs.
All of these factors are expected to result in a strong market. We currently have a significant backlog of work. As a result, SCS is very optimistic that the latter half of 2018 will be good and we expect that strong market to extend into 2019.
CEO, P2S Inc.
Engineering firm leaders’ confidence in the economy and in the architecture and engineering market continues to climb, according to the latest American Council of Engineering Company Engineering Business Index (EBI) survey. In the 1st quarter of 2018, the EBI score rose to 66.8, up 0.9 from 65.9 in the 4th quarter of 2017. Any score above 50 signals that the market is growing. The EBI stands at its highest level since the 3rd quarter of 2014. Firm leaders are most upbeat about current market conditions. In comparing today’s market to a year ago, respondents gave a score of 76.7, the highest in the survey.
The outlook in the California economy continues to look strong for the remainder of this year in both the public and private sectors. P2S Inc.’s backlog has increased 18% and revenue has increased 21% year to date through the end of May. P2S saw a 6% increase in the number of opportunities and a 13% increase in the value of those opportunities in the first half of 2018. In addition, P2S Inc.’s headcount has increased 15% year to date, adding 29 new positions, predominately in the Long Beach office.