Consulting engineering offers something for everyone
It’s got it all. Consulting engineering’s scope ranges from minute to gargantuan. One project produces a single new wall, another fills a city block with a jaw-dropping convention centre. Some practitioners excel as go-to experts in one area, others manage and coordinate mega-projects. One firm operates locally, another internationally. Consulting is like a box of chocolates. So much choice!
“When I took the Building class at university, I realized the variety of projects I could work on,” says Simon Nolin, a 2007 graduate in Mechanical Engineering from Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. Having completed a student project at Dessau, he eagerly joined the company in Montreal upon graduation.
Nolin first worked on one small project, then undertook tasks on larger projects. One responsibility entailed the simulation of a building to see the economies and payback for all its elements. He followed that up with work-site surveillance.
He quickly discovered his interest in all areas and the value of going to the experts for information. “There are people at Dessau with years of experience,” he says. “They’ll give you the answer, but make you search for it too so you’ll remember.”
Along the way, he earned a certificate in Project Management from HEC Montréal. It helped pave the way to bigger projects.
“Right now I have 35 active projects,” he says. “Of course, projects have many phases, some are in conception or submission, others are almost finished. For 25 of them, I’m doing the project management and conception, on some I’m verifying that they meet LEED criteria.”
Recently, the Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec awarded Nolin the Emerging Consulting Engineering Award for his project to redesign the recalibration laboratory of Hydro-Québec’s Research Institute in Varennes. As well as being project manager, he was principal designer and site supervisor.
Nolin is justifiably proud. No less proud, however, than Marilyne Durand, whenever she passes by Montreal’s multifunctional Maison du Festival de Jazz with its theatre, bistro, showrooms and offices. It was her first project upon joining Bouthillette Parizeau in 2008, two years after graduating from École Polytechnique de Montréal. In the two-year interim, she put her Mechanical Engineering degree with a specialization in Conception and Design to use in two international companies.
But working on-site in a Seattle, Washington-based aerospace company, where she never knew how long she’d be staying, was frustrating. As was trying to be heard and to see tangible results. That led to the realization that she craved a career in building mechanical engineering. And it had to be for a consulting firm with local projects which she could see take shape.
“What’s good about building engineering is the amount of technical work,” she explains. “But, I also like the interaction with others, including clients. It’s a good mix.”
While interested in environmentally friendly buildings, Durand is stimulated by all variety of projects. “On projects you can have plumbing, air conditioning, heating and cooling and many other things,” she says. “I want to do a bit of everything, so I’ve stayed more of a generalist. The more projects you work on, the more you develop your technical skills.”
The right profile
Durand has also sharpened her communication abilities. “Dealing with clients asks you to go outside your comfort zone,” she says. “You learn to adapt to their way of approaching problems. Some stress quickly, so you spend a lot of time speaking with them. Others almost say, “That’s the project, call me when it’s finished.” You learn to spot these things quickly, and not use one way with everybody.”
Durand’s keen attitude is just what Geneviève Bélec, Bouthillette Parizeau’s Human Resources Director, appreciates. But, the first thing she looks at when hiring recent graduates, mostly from the mechanical, civil and electrical fields, is education. She also notices when someone has travelled for a few months at a time. It demonstrates autonomy, openness and flexibility, all good characteristics for a consulting engineer.
As for the position they seek, it depends on the individual. “Some people will never be project managers, it’s not what they want,” Bélec says. “Some go quickly into the field, others take longer.” At Bouthillette Parizeau, as at many consulting firms, new graduates are mentored by someone more senior, gradually becoming more autonomous.
“We appreciate when potential employees state what they want, because up-front we know if we can fill their needs,” she states. “But even before applying, they should learn about a firm and determine if they see themselves fitting in.”
Her advice to anyone considering the industry is to do their homework. Consulting engineering has something for everyone.
Consulting engineering: do you have what it takes?
Consulting engineers with fulfilling careers tend to share similar abilities and aptitudes. Bouthillette Parizeau’s astute Human Resources Director, Geneviève Bélec, points out the following:
- Strong technical training can never be underestimated. It’s an invaluable asset when seeking solutions to any client’s problems.
- The ability to work well with others is crucial. A project roster can include the project manager, experts in specific areas (e.g. plumbing, ventilation, etc.), assistants, drafters, clients, architects and builders. The larger the project, the longer the list.
- Flexibility is an industry buzzword. Meeting the all-important final deadline calls for changes, big or small, along the way. It’s important to be open to alternative methods and revised time frames.
- An openness to learning is a winning trait. No matter their years of experience, consulting engineers constantly deal with challenges. Each project presents a learning opportunity.
- The ability to analyze and synthesize is critical, laying the groundwork for clear decision-making.
- Communication skills, listening to understand and expressing clearly and respectfully both verbally and in writing are priceless.
This article is taken from Les carrières de l’ingénierie 2014 (namely Careers in Engineering)