Urban planning community | #theplannerlife

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 11 of 11

Thread: Working for large engineering firms

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered
    Mar 2010
    Location
    San Francisco
    Posts
    21

    Working for large engineering firms

    I got a nibble yesterday from one of the big engineering firms that's advertising for environmental planners right now. If this progresses to an interview it will be the second such engineering company (out of a total of three companies) I've interviewed for since I began searching for a job in December.

    Just wondering if anyone else can share their experience either interviewing with or working for an engineering firm. The firm I interviewed with before seemed interesting, with diverse projects all over the world and lots of room to grow. Even though I didn't get the job, the main guy I interviewed with, who is a planner and one of the top 4 or 5 people at the firm, seemed like a genuinely nice guy. The firm had "only" 5,000 employees as compared to the 40,000+ employees at the other engineering firms I've applied to.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Gone to a better place (in my mind)
    Posts
    407
    I wasn't an environmental planner, and the firm had "only" about 1,000 employees, but I used to work for a good-sized engineering firm.

    My suggestion would be to do some good checking-up on the planning department at this firm. Some engineering firms have robust planning departments, others do not. My firm had a large amout of planners and the planning department often took on work that was unrelated to the enginnering aspects of the firm. That diversity of work made the firm a good place to work for me.

    Ultimately, though, the point of an engineering firm having a planning department is to bring in engineering work. The theory is that, if you get the project at plannning stage (i.e. the very beginning), the firm can become a one-stop shop for all aspects of a project. In reality, clients have their own desires and different phases of projects are often parceled out among different firms. But sometimes it all comes together and the firm gets a lot of work. In any event, there will be pressure on you and your department to make this happen.

    I thought working in a 1,000 person firm might be impersonal, but I found myself working with a group of highly intelligent, motivated, and personable people. The work environment was excellent.

    Also, ask about ESOPs, ownership stakes, becoming an associate, bonuses, etc. If you're going to be on the dark side, you may as well get paid for it and have a stake in the firm. Also remember that these firms will chuck you out on your ear at the first sign of an economic downturn. Make sure you involve yourself in professional organizations and cultivate relationships outside of the firm in case you need help in the future.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Dec 2006
    Location
    midwest
    Posts
    2,829
    My boss and I (also a cyburbian) comprise the two-person planning staff for a +300 person engineering company. My boss reports to an engineering division head, who is a PE. Planning is doing very well right now, and we are just wrapping up a transportation planning project and streetscape design guidelines. I am also the project lead on an environmental assessment for a transportation corridor and am writing most of the EA. We operate somewhat apart from the rest of the company. However, because I know a lot of GIS and CAD, etc. I also assist the civil/transportation engineers on projects now and then (I think this is the exception to the rule). My boss also interviewed for two planning projects this past week.

    At my last job (also private sector) I occassionally worked with planners from engineering firms and there was often a hostile relationship between planners and engineers. Fortunately, the engineers in my current job have been supportive and accomodating of the planner's special needs. The IT department is much stricter and we often have to go through several hoops to use certain websites for work purposes. Planners do much more research, analysis using the internet, and we operate very differently from engineers.

    I agree, do your research on the company first. When I first interviewed for the job, I had "some" reservations about the company because there was little to no information on the firm's planning projects on the company's website. We both bring planning project experience from different areas and are building a strong presence very quickly (and will eventually upgrade the marketing material to reflect our planning experience in this firm). I would be very careful with discussing ownership stakes in the company during the interview process. I think it would be more appropriate to wait until you are offered the job. No sense in rocking the boat.

    As a planner, working for an engineering company has pros and cons. Our company has been around since the 60s with occasional planning projects here and there, and has a highly-respected engineering presence in several states. Planning plays off that experience by often going after projects where we an established engineering track record . Competition for work is also not nearly as cut throat as my last job in Chicagoland so its much easier to find work here. However, not everyone is easily receptive. I recommend that planners establish a separate identity apart from the engineers, otherwise potential clients might mistake engineers doing the planning work.

    Hope this helps-
    Last edited by nrschmid; 02 Apr 2010 at 10:45 AM.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  4. #4
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Gone to a better place (in my mind)
    Posts
    407
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    I would be very careful with discussing ownership stakes in the company during the interview process. I think it would be more appropriate to wait until you are offered the job. No sense in rocking the boat.
    Yeah, I was more thinking of what I would do in this case. These kind of discussions depend on where you are in your career and what you think you can get out of a firm.

    I would say that it wouldn't be a bad thing to do some background research on whether or not a firm offers some sort of employee ownership scheme (as many engineering firms seem to be ESOPs) and then, if they do, asking about how it works. It would show (IMHO) that you have some familiarity with the inner workings of the firm and that you are thinking long-term about your career.

    You probably shouldn't go in there demanding to become a senior associate right away, though. They might want to get to know you a bit first.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian a.kid's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2010
    Location
    Los Angeles (for now...)
    Posts
    39
    If you don't mind, Buckarooster, I'd like to ask a related question. Please forgive me i'm not trying to hijack your thread.

    Would anyone on this thread care to share what kind of background in planning you have to put you in a position to work for one of these engineering firms? I will be entering an MURP program at either UCLA or Portland State in the fall and just want to figure out what I need to do to tailor my education to that kind of an employment goal.

    My interests weigh heavily in transportation and environmental planning. Should i try to take as many engineering courses as I can or are there specific planning courses/skills that these companies look for?

    Thanks for the help!

  6. #6
    Member
    Registered
    Mar 2010
    Location
    San Francisco
    Posts
    21
    Quote Originally posted by a.kid View post
    If you don't mind, Buckarooster, I'd like to ask a related question. Please forgive me i'm not trying to hijack your thread.

    Would anyone on this thread care to share what kind of background in planning you have to put you in a position to work for one of these engineering firms? I will be entering an MURP program at either UCLA or Portland State in the fall and just want to figure out what I need to do to tailor my education to that kind of an employment goal.

    My interests weigh heavily in transportation and environmental planning. Should i try to take as many engineering courses as I can or are there specific planning courses/skills that these companies look for?

    Thanks for the help!
    First of all, thanks for the responses. Very helpful and interesting to me.

    Regarding your question a.kid, I'm a graduate of the UCLA program, but a long time ago in a galaxy far away. My advisor was Marty Wachs, who was at UCB last I checked, but my interests took me down a "built environment" path instead of transportation planning. The LA subway system was still in its planning stages back then and Marty was quite outspoken about the costs of rail vs. bus systems. He was a proponent of a beefed up bus system instead of rail, including elevated busways on the area's freeways. He demonstrated how ridership projections for rail are generally over-optimistic (especially back then). That's the extent of what I learned about transportation planning there!

    Generally speaking, I didn't really learn anything at UCLA that had practical applicability to my career. My academic studies were geared toward somewhat esoteric historical/social stuff about the built environment. They didn't really have classes that pertained to public sector municipal-level planning work.

    If you want to go straight into a more specialized area like transportation or environmental planning, and then work for a big engineering firm, the coursework you choose will definitely be important. Not sure about taking engineering classes but it would be key to learn as much as possible about CAD and urban infrastructure (including transportation) as well as courses that take in NEPA regulations. CEQA too if you plan to work in CA.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Dec 2006
    Location
    midwest
    Posts
    2,829
    There are engineering firms that provide planning services, and planning firms that provide engineering services, although there are more of the first type than the second. However, the work is very segregated: engineers work on the engineering projects, planners work on the planning projects. One notable exception might be engineering plan review, which is a form of current planning, but again, this is really done by engineers.

    Unless you want to be an engineer, I don't think that having some engineering classes would really help. First, you need to be licensed or on your way towards licensure, to even DO most engineering work. Second, the engineering courses that usually provide the most transferable skills are upper-level engineering courses. They are not typically offered as electives and usually require several years of math and hard science first. Third, in some ways taking a few engineering courses is like trying to make a legal career with just a handful of law classes: you really need the full training to be the most marketable to the firm.

    It would be far easier to learn Microstation and learn to redline construction documents. True, it's just plain drafting without any creative input, but at least you would have much more hands-on experience in how actual engineering projects are created.

    Hope this helps-
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  8. #8
    Cyburbian LTKS's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Somewhere everyone wants to live but me
    Posts
    100
    I currently work at an engineering based firm, however it is pretty small - 3 offices in the country with less than 100 persons. My background is in landscape design (B.S.) and Master in Urban Planning, focus on community development. I now focus on transportation planning.

    I have found it to be quite difficult, but that is just based on my experiences. I'm the only real "trained" planner in my specific office; despite this, I don't feel that I get the amount or quality of work I should. Further, because it is a transportation-based firm, the engineers in the office do a ton of work that I should be doing - trip generations, parking analysis, etc. As a result, I'm stuck in a niche (mostly transit-related plans/studies) without room to move around and expand. Perhaps when the economy picks up and we have way more work than we can handle, I may get a piece of all that, but unfortunately, I don't think that is the way it should be.

    I would assume that this may be the case in other firms, but maybe not. If I could leave my job and not work with engineers, I would. With that said, I have some friends that have had good experiences with engineering firms - I think it all depends on what sector of planning you are in. Environmental planning may be better, since I don't think engineers know much about that.

    One more thing....if you are going to the APA Conference next week, there is a whole session on planners working for engineering firms and how to succeed. I'm planning on attending that one. I'll be happy to report back any good information I get from it, if you think it would be beneficial.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 06 Apr 2010 at 2:53 PM. Reason: double reply

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Dec 2006
    Location
    midwest
    Posts
    2,829
    Quote Originally posted by LTKS View post
    One more thing....if you are going to the APA Conference next week, there is a whole session on planners working for engineering firms and how to succeed. I'm planning on attending that one. I'll be happy to report back any good information I get from it, if you think it would be beneficial.
    Copy me on it, too.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  10. #10
    One frustration I have heard from other planners who have worked in engineering firms is the age-old misalignment of paradigms: You have engineers designing the project at the expense of the environment and the planners holding the environment at the expense of the project. However, it does seem that this kind of thing is abating somewhat, as there is more environmental stuff included in engineering programs and stiffer regulations.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian LTKS's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Somewhere everyone wants to live but me
    Posts
    100
    Yep, no problem. Here's the summary from the APA website:

    Title Planning Grads in Engineering Firms
    Day Monday
    Time 2:30PM - 3:45PM
    CM Credits CM | 0.00
    Fee $ 0.00

    Linda Amato, AICP | see bio

    Cade W. Hobbick, AICP | see bio

    Sarah Louise Butler, AICP | see bio

    Topics: Professional Development, Private Practice,
    Type: Facilitated Discussions

    Description
    Hear about the differences inherent in working in the private sector in firms that specialize in fields other than planning. What skills and attitude are needed to land such a job--and keep it? Interact with prospective employers from the private sector.

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. Looking for firms in Detroit area
    Economic and Community Development
    Replies: 2
    Last post: 15 Feb 2009, 3:08 PM
  2. Any firms in Holland?
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 0
    Last post: 09 Mar 2006, 12:31 PM
  3. Cleveland Firms
    Introduce Yourself
    Replies: 6
    Last post: 18 Oct 2003, 10:10 PM
  4. Cleveland Firms
    Student Commons
    Replies: 0
    Last post: 08 Oct 2003, 10:08 PM