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Hiring the Next Generation of Field Technicians and Engineers

Over the past several years, we all have experienced the challenges of finding young, talented individuals to perform our essential field services. I’m referring to the team members who are out there in the field, doing inspections, installing equipment, collecting data, and more.

While thinking about the challenges of working “in the trenches,” one person comes to mind: Mike Rowe. Probably best known for his work on the Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs, Rowe once said something that really makes you stop and think: “Most people don’t know where their food comes from. We’re confused about the fundamentals. How does our food wind up on our plates? How exactly is it that, when I flick the switch, the lights come on?”

In my opinion, that quote represents one of the greatest challenges that the engineering industry faces. Even though the fundamentals are crucial to every single job, seeking out young talent we so desperately need to work in the trenches is not an easy task. The next generation has been better prepared to understand and use emerging technology, and that’s a good thing. However, finding someone who has these technical skills and who is also willing to get down in the trench to turn nuts and bolts is where hiring gets difficult.

The younger generation has an advantage I never had when I started 30 years ago. Advanced technology and equipment can be used to enhance their skills in ways yet to be seen. Yet even with the ongoing advances in technology, skilled workers who are willing to do the “dirty jobs” are still unquestionably essential to our industry’s success. These hardworking members of society help keep the lights on, faucets running, and so much more. It’s important that the younger generation does not lose sight of this essential aspect of all engineering jobs.

At the spry age of 54, I’m still in the trenches training the younger generation. Two weeks ago, I was suspended in an 18-foot sewer pipe with nothing to grab onto; only a cable and harness separated me from a 26-foot vertical drop. Yeah, it was a dirty job, but it was successful in several ways. Our team restored service to the site, and during that time, we passed on training to the next generation.

Many of us do understand the fundamentals. We understand the “dirty side” of what it takes to build infrastructure and offer basic services like clean water and electricity. But if you are a “seasoned” engineer, ask yourself, how have you seen the industry change from when you first started? Then consider, how are those differences seen through the eyes of a younger field service member or engineer? How do they learn to value the fundamentals, too?

When seeking out new talent, especially in the field service sector, my recommendation is to be honest and tell it like it is. In so doing, enlighten them with the opportunities and training that can help them advance their careers. Experience comes with time, and we all have a responsibility to find and foster the next generation for future success. Regardless of education or experience, please take time to be understanding and help your colleagues find success.

Ted Nadobny is a senior project manager for water systems at EBA Engineering, Inc. He can be reached at 717.654.7980, ted.nadobny@ebaengineering.com, or on LinkedIn.

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Ted Nadobny
ted.nadobny@ebaengineering.com