How to Blend STEM Knowledge and Experience to Get More Affordable Solutions, Brendan O'Brien

Today’s experienced science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce presents both opportunities and challenges for engineer-procure-construct (EPC) companies and their clients. Knowledge and experience acquired over decades of hands-on engineering work is invaluable, but hiring such professionals can be costly. By designing workforce strategies that make the most of experienced employees’ accumulated attributes while also balancing costs, forward-thinking EPC companies can deliver long-term, diversified solutions.

Changing Demographics

Across the country, several factors are converging to produce a STEM workforce that is more experienced than ever before. Since the 1990s, more individuals have entered STEM fields relative to other industries, the median age of the U.S. population has increased and workers have begun retiring later.

Uncertainty about Social Security, healthcare and having enough savings are driving some to stay in the workforce longer, while others simply want to keep working. In STEM industries, the intense demand for skilled employees allows these workers to continue making valuable contributions in their chosen field.

Experience Provides a Competitive Edge

Those employees nearing retirement have a lot to offer clients, particularly in power, oil and gas, and other industries where the dominant technologies have been established for decades. The experience and knowledge base these employees have acquired allows them to see the big picture, foresee and prevent problems, and share best practices with colleagues.

However, it isn’t cost-effective to staff project teams solely with experienced employees. For EPC companies, the goal is to blend various levels of experience to suit each client’s project requirements.

Making Experienced Employees Affordable

We’ve found that maximizing opportunities for experienced workers to share their knowledge is essential. Some of the most promising approaches include:

  • Staffing projects with mixed crews. Experienced employees provide training on internal processes, share industry knowledge and serve as mentors, while team members earlier in their careers offer fresh perspectives and ambition. Clients benefit when both proven and innovative solutions are considered.
  • Developing knowledge management tools. Employees with decades on the books are given the opportunity to act as subject matter resources for new, internal technologies. For example, we assign “power users” for our financial software in every group. These more experienced individuals play an advisory role to less experienced staff who manage day-to-day project responsibilities. This keeps costs in check while still providing clients with the benefits of decades of STEM experience.
  • Encouraging entrepreneurism. We often think of entrepreneurs as being early in their careers, but recent research indicates that experienced workers continue to be entrepreneurial. In fact, they tend to be more successful in that role. EPC companies can inspire the entrepreneurial spirit among these employees by sponsoring competitions for crowdsourced solutions to industry challenges and then implementing those creative solutions for our clients.

When mixed crews oversee project execution, clients gain an affordable combination of experience and innovation.

Brendan O’Brien, PE, JD, is a business development manager and an engineer at Burns & McDonnell, specializing in construction management, commissioning, structural engineering and EPC project management for clients in the oil and gas and power sectors. In a career spanning nearly 15 years, Brendan has worked on a number of complex energy projects in North America and internationally.