How to hire a Structural Engineer: Look beyond the Degree

When selecting a structural engineer, it is important to look beyond the college degree.  Of course education and a license are important, but once you check those items off your list be sure to dig deeper to gain a better understanding of the engineer being evaluated.

Core engineering skills are gained through a four-year program at an accredited university.  After passing a formal examination the engineer achieves a chartered Structural Engineer status.  In order to practice in a particular state, the structural engineer must obtain a license.  This process includes passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination, accumulating a set amount of experience, and passing the Principles and Practice in Engineering (PE) examination.  After all of this, a Professional Engineer status is granted and the engineer is eligible to seal engineering drawings and take legal responsibility for engineering work and calculations, allowing them to submit the proper documents to apply for building permits.

Once the fundamental educational criteria have been met, the next consideration is experience.  Through their education, engineers collect a “toolbox” of skills.  As they move along in their careers they enhance their ability to understand how and when to use those tools.  This time gives them practice using their tools in various situations and analyzing their effectiveness.  Eventually, they get to a point where they are able to predict outcomes when given specific scenarios.  This experience is invaluable when designing complex facilities.  It helps to avoid unexpected problems and keep costs down.

The more time spent on the job also gives engineers working knowledge in a variety of different aspects of engineering.  This is important as most projects will involve an assortment of building materials, structure types and external influences and you don’t want your project to be the first time your engineer has faced a certain situation.  Some engineers focus on a very specific specialty; others have experience in a wide range of specialties.  Examples of specialty types include:

  • Materials:  brick, concrete, steel, etc.
  • Structure types:  shopping centers, pipelines, industrial plants, material handling, storage facilities, chemical plants, roofs, towers, churches, etc.
  • External influences:  earthquake, fire, wind, etc.

Another quality of an engineer that goes beyond degrees and titles is their understanding of the construction process.  It is great if a design looks good on paper but it is completely ineffective if it is unnecessarily difficult to build or cannot be built properly.  A good engineer will ensure that their design has “constructability”, meaning it will be buildable and that cost can be controlled.  Knowledge of the construction process also enables the engineer to effectively oversee the project to make sure that the builder is building the project according to the approved design.

The next time you are evaluating an engineer, be sure to take a closer look at their background.  Your extra effort could result in a smarter designed, better built and lower cost facility.

This is a guest post submitted by Ally Silva. Ally works with AMG, Inc., a full-service engineering company that supports clients in the agricultural commodities, food/beverage, and biotechnology industries. AMG supports clients with everything from structural engineering services to piping engineering design to foundation design. Ally prides herself on sharing valuable insight regarding the engineering services industry and is happy to contribute!

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