How to Inspire the Next Generation of Texas Engineers

How to Inspire the Next Generation of Texas Engineers

Texas is growing fast, and to sustain that growth, we’re going to need a lot more engineering talent.

In coming years, the engineering industry will ultimately be charged with leading the design, building, and rebuilding of infrastructure needed to provide our state with first-class facilities such as highways, flood-control facilities, electrical distribution systems, schools, sports arenas, and hospitals.

As my friend T. Wayne Holcombe of Houston’s Gradient Group put it to me: Over 1,000 people are moving to Texas every day—and they aren’t bringing, roads, water, or schools with them. Furthermore, engineers will play a key role in developing long-term solutions as Texas navigates changes in climate.

Given this growing demand for engineering work, there will be plenty of opportunities for jobs in the field. In fact, an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics updated since the coronavirus outbreak projects strong growth for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs overall. But will we have the talent to fill these positions? Can we interest homegrown talent in engineering and attract new engineering talent to the state?

The good news is that Texas is a great place to be an engineer. In a study recently published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Houston, Dallas and Austin/San Marcos were selected as the first, fourth and tenth best cities, respectively, to be in the civil engineering profession.

Below are a few ways business leaders—especially those in the engineering industry—can capitalize on that appeal and develop the talent that’s required for a bright Texas future.

Start Early

Invest in mentoring engineering talent early. By partnering with schools and STEM-related programs, industry leaders can begin exposing students to STEM opportunities from a young age.

For example, a child who finds natural interest in buildings, design, or science may not see an initial connection to a career in engineering or architecture. There are many existing mentor programs available to help high school students foster that interest. I participate in one such organization called the ACE Mentor Program, which partners students with local mentors from the architecture, engineering, and construction professions to plan and design real projects from an idea into a set of plans.

A mentor can help students translate their passion into a career path. By doing this early, students have a better understanding of their interests before embarking on trade school or college. Mentors should initiate regular touchpoints with mentees throughout their schooling and career journeys. Continual investment in promising individuals creates a strong support system and positions them for success.

Explore the Interests of Up-and-Coming Engineers

Priorities in the engineering field are shifting: There is a focus on sustainable building, ethically sourced materials, innovative design, and cutting-edge technology. We will need highly specialized professionals to support these efforts.

Fortunately, one of the wonderful characteristics of Generation Z is their genuine interest in “saving the world.” Sustainable design and construction careers provide them with the opportunity to turn that desire into reality. Not only does this provide engineers with the opportunity to become experts in a particular area; it also provides them with training and experience beyond traditional technical expertise. And in turn, it provides Texas with a more capable, well-equipped workforce.     

Promote Leadership

Once we have young professionals committed to a career in engineering, how do we encourage them to go further in the field? Taking active roles in technical and professional organizations and serving in leadership positions are a great way for young professionals to learn about the profession of engineering and develop leadership skills. Engineers need to be able to look at a company’s or professional organization’s leadership and see individuals from all backgrounds, specialties and areas of expertise. This is a top-down process and begins with our CEOs.

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Texas will remain one of the most attractive states in which to live and work—if we ensure we have the physical and human infrastructure, economic development, and quality of life to support such growth. And by investing in our engineers, we are investing in our state’s future.

Chris Shultz

Chris L. Schultz, PE, PMP, is president of Raba Kistner, Inc., a premier engineering consulting and program management firm based in San Antonio, Texas.

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