BY KENNETH TODD, PE, FBPE CHAIR (2018)
For the past five years I have given a lecture on laws and rules, ethics and the practice of engineering to senior civil engineering students at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, as well as engineering students of several disciplines at Florida International University in Miami. I do this every semester in the hope it will give a student who is about to enter the engineering workforce some idea of what to expect.
It is apparent to me from discussions I’ve had with the students that many do not realize exactly what is involved in the practice of engineering. Several have expressed concerns about being in a decision-making position for which they are not prepared due to a lack of practical experience. This lack of confidence is understandable for a young engineer who has very little practical experience; those of us who have been around the block a time or two can help provide confidence to younger engineers through mentoring.
Although my discussions have been only with students at these two universities in the southeastern part of the state, I believe the comments I have received from these students are typical of those I would receive from students at universities throughout the state. This leads me to the challenge I am putting forth to all engineers who are more experienced: Take time to mentor those young engineers in your company who are recent graduates. They will appreciate it, and it will be quite rewarding for both you as a mentor and your company through increased productivity.
For those of you who are in private practice, I recognize that spending more time with a fellow engineer is not as profitable when both are billing for your time. However, as I have told the students in my lectures, the ASCE Code of Ethics emphasizes placing the health and safety of the public ahead of all considerations, including profit.
It is noted that many times an experienced engineer is faced with the challenge of not having previously done the engineering task at hand, but it should be recognized that many young engineers do not have the practical experience needed to make good engineering decisions. I think back to my own experience as a young engineer right out of college who had learned the theory of various engineering principles but wasn’t sure how to best apply what I had learned to solve the problem. Rather than let me struggle to figure it out on my own, I give credit to those engineers I worked for who took the time to explain the best and most efficient ways, both technically and administratively, to solve various aspects of the engineering projects. This is the type of mentoring where a more experienced engineer can have a positive influence on the career of a younger engineer.
Supervisors of younger licensed engineers should also not place them in a position of making engineering decisions they are not qualified to make. This could only lead to a problem within the project and could possibly lead to a disciplinary case against the licensed supervising engineer and the licensed younger engineer. Besides, the mentoring you do today could help eliminate some bad habits the younger engineer may carry with them for the rest of their career.
When it comes to the design of a project, the design engineer, the project manager or the principle in charge are all in this together. All engineers want a technically correct project, and a consulting firm wants a project done in an efficient manner by which they can make money. I don’t know a single firm that is in business to lose money. Firms can accomplish much when all participants of a design team are contributing their technical and managerial skills to attain a successful project.
I encourage those of you who are the more experienced engineers to seriously consider being a mentor to a younger engineer, if you haven’t already been doing so. In the end, I believe you will end up with better projects and you will have an employee who will be an engineer ready to lead our profession in the future.
Kenneth Todd is a licensed Professional Engineer in Florida. He currently works as water resource manager for Palm Beach County and is responsible for coordinating water-resource efforts with county department and other government agencies. Mr. Todd is serving his second term on the Florida Board of Professional Engineers and is Board Chair for 2017-18.