Workforce reductions and an increase in competition for engineering skills are affecting organizations throughout the energy industry. As the cost of power decreases and the implementation of renewable solar and wind increases, utilities are experiencing a reduction in engineering teams, project managers and maintenance staff.

While this change in workforce numbers presents some daunting challenges, it also opens up the opportunity to tap into the innovation and broad experience available from a progressive architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firm.

Evolving Work Practices

The impact of staff changes and downsizing on the energy industry is also affecting how AEC firms operate and strategically invest. In the past, utilities often sought a partner to handle plant construction based on internal drawings and utility direction.

Today, many utilities — whether for an individual project or the program management of many projects — look to an AEC firm to provide project management plus design development and construction.

Advantages of Working With an Innovative AEC

Utilities should evaluate an AEC firm to serve as a partner and resource, making sure it brings added value, in addition to expanding internal working teams.

  • Experience — Working with an AEC that brings forward broad experience and diversity of thought gained from a wide range of industries offers tremendous advantage for utilities. Project and program management plus construction execution methods and processes have changed significantly in recent years and can decrease risk and, ultimately, lower project cost. This cross-industry experience can deliver immediate value for utilities.
  • Speed — Because of the workforce shifts in the energy industry, innovative AEC firms will have implemented strategic staffing initiatives to support this new dynamic. From hiring to support regional growth to building procurement networks that offer project volume and buyer power, a proactive AEC can help maximize project outcomes quickly.
  • Technology — With so many technological advances, utilities can benefit from an AEC firm that understands how to deploy the right technology in the right areas.
    • Video conferencing efficiently connects teams in different offices around the world.
    • An electronic drafting board allows real-time collaboration on drawings.
    • A 3D camera gives a quick, 360-degree view of spaces in the field that provide a fast and easy way to understand unique areas, limitations and potential accurately.
    • Virtual reality (VR) headsets allow team members to “see” a proposed result. By experiencing the planned construction first, utilities have the chance to modify and approve project drawings before construction packages are finalized.

Utilities that seek out a partnership with a qualified AEC firm that not only understands the current challenges to the workforce, but also has taken proactive action to solve for those challenges, stands to increase the likelihood of project success.

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.