November 27, 2023 | Articles
Staffing construction projects and programs—especially with the highly skilled and experienced personnel necessary for success—remains a challenge across the AEC industry. According to a 2022 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), there are upwards of 350,000 unfilled AEC positions in the U.S. alone. And, with funding from the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act now hitting the procurement cycle, this figure will only climb over the next few years.
To address staff shortages, the private sector is experimenting with novel solutions such as leveraging artificial intelligence and employing alternate delivery methods, among others, as well as ramping up recruiting and supporting ongoing training for current employees. But, for clients with programs and projects ready to break ground today, these long-term solutions will do little to address talent gaps.
One solution, says Hill International, Inc. First Vice President, Northern California Operations Andy Kreck, PE, CCM, is to identify top performers already in-house and then find creative ways to support their growth and maximize their opportunities. “We have talented, knowledgeable people already on-board,” says Andy. “And we have ways to help them make the most of that talent, whether through traditional educational programs or through more creative training paths.”
One example of how a Hill team member is helping to fill an immediate need for a client while also furthering their own career growth is Youssef Saliba, who recently became a certified Engineer in Training (EIT) and is sure to achieve his Professional Engineer (PE) license in the State of California in the near future.
Youssef, who has more than 10 years of experience in construction management and 15 years of experience working on construction sites verifying contractor compliance with applicable plans, specifications, and permits, and aspires to be able to serve as a Resident Engineer on the Hill team supporting the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA) highway capital program one day.
Specifically, Youssef has performed roadway construction inspections for various projects in VTA’s Highway Program, including its implementation of express lanes (also known as tolled managed lanes) in Santa Clara County. The Silicon Valley Express Lanes Program includes two corridors that encompass four State routes: State Route (SR) 237/I-880 and SR 85/U.S. 101. The system of express lanes that include the conversion of existing high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to priced managed lanes operations is being implemented in phases with three phases in operation, two phases in final design, and several more miles of express lanes already environmentally cleared.
With a background in structures and civil projects including bridges, roadways, electrical, environmental, traffic handling, drainage, materials and landscaping, safety, and SWPPP compliance, Youssef is well- qualified for his new role.
“I’ve been with the VTA team for six years,” says Youssef, “and have worked on multiple, highly technical projects requiring proficiency in multiple areas of engineering disciplines. Phase 3 of the Express Lanes project [which implemented the first express lanes through the U.S. 101/SR 85 interchanges in Mountain View] in particular was a complex project where I had a lead role, from a field perspective, for the duration of the project. I’m proud of the work we did.”
Even with his hands-on experience, Youssef notes his route to a PE license has not been a typical one. “I don’t have a bachelor’s degree and I had to wait until I had seven years of qualifying experience in the civil engineering field to be considered for licensure,” he explains. Given that the pass rate for the engineering examinations is low even for graduates of accredited engineering degree programs, the idea of passing without the traditional engineering education seemed like a huge obstacle.
“I have always had the dream of becoming a PE, but of course the goal seemed insurmountable,” Youssef says. However, he adds, “Andy Kreck approached me and gave me the confidence and motivation to start the long road and let me know of the opportunities available with Hill if I was able to achieve licensure.”
With this support, Youssef enrolled in a course to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. “I studied for about 1,000 hours over 6 months and successfully passed that exam, earning my EIT certification in California,” he says. “Upon passing, I enrolled in a PE exam prep class and studied for another 6 months and another 1,000 hours: and I passed the exam in July.”
Upon completion of the remaining California-required, state-specific exams, Youssef will be an official Professional Engineer on Hill’s VTA team.
“PE licensure is the top rank of achievement in the discipline,” says Youssef. “Being a PE allows you full control of your career path, almost all leaders in the AEC field are licensed, and the PE skillset is always coveted and always in demand.”
“Youssef is a top performer for a key client,” concludes Andy. “He’s proven himself in the field, and obviously he’s committed to his career.”
For clients such as VTA, the development of their existing support teams offers an added benefit: resources with first-hand knowledge of their processes and procedures ready to take on roles of greater responsibility. Says Andy, “Seeing Youssef achieve this milestone is a win-win-win: for VTA, for Hill, and, most importantly, for Youssef. We are ecstatic for his accomplishment and are thrilled he will take his rightful leadership position on the Hill team.”
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