Skip to content

“No single thing created the workforce shortage, so no single thing can fix it.”

That was the recurring theme throughout last week’s inaugural Engineering and Public Works Workforce Summit at our headquarters in Washington. It was also the impetus behind the meeting. Part discovery process and part intensive brainstorming session: The Summit gathered nearly four dozen leaders from engineering and public works associations, academia, and government to share their impressions of what is causing the engineering shortage and to offer ideas to address it.

Although we all agreed that no single thing can fix the workforce challenge, we also agreed that we must begin outreach and recruitment efforts earlier than we are. If we as an industry are making our first appeals to high schoolers – or worse, kids in college – we have waited far too long. Awareness of engineering at a young age is critical, and the influence of parents can’t be overstated. Speaking of his work with a summer STEM camp for underserved middle-schoolers in New York City, one participant shared that when asked about how they discovered the camp, every single student responded, “My mother found it.”

Talent is everywhere, but access is not equal. It is incumbent on us as an industry to go into underserved rural and urban communities where there are so many kids with potential, but no role models. One participant shared a story of a girl who’d been living in a car being awarded a scholarship to study civil engineering. Reacting to that story, another panelist said, “If you’re living in a car, you KNOW how to solve problems. These are the kind of people [the industry] needs.” Four-dozen heads immediately nodded in unison.

We parted on Friday with a commitment to not only continue our collaboration but also formalize it through the creation of the Engineering Workforce Consortium (EWC) through a Memorandum of Understanding. It was agreed that ACEC, ASCE, and APWA would take the lead in creating this blueprint and developing scalable and tailorable solutions that can be specialized by geography.

The EWC also recognizes that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel to address the workforce challenge, but we do need to reinforce its spokes. Groups like DiscoverE and ACE Mentor are already doing great work in reaching out to students to attract them to engineering. What we need to do as an industry is empower these organizations with our unique capabilities and tools to amplify their work. We also need to take advantage of the strengths that ACEC brings to the table – and that of the partner organizations in the room – to work together to address other aspects of the workforce challenge. The EWC will formalize how this can happen. We have three primary objectives – to attract new talent, retain it, and grow them as professionals.

As we develop the framework for the EWC, it will be with an eye toward sustainable change – not quick fixes. We’ve set a goal to have the MOU ready for group review within 60 days. Stay tuned.

Throughout our careers, we’ve all been to fact-finding sessions designed to surface solutions to complex issues. It’s frustratingly common to emerge from these sessions with a sense that the conversations were circular and that no progress was made. I did not walk away Friday afternoon with that sense. Not only was there shared agreement on action items but there was a desire to work together to confront the engineering workforce shortage with a common commitment and purpose. This was a smart, engaged, creative, and diverse group of leaders determined to meet this challenge head-on. Because we all know what’s at stake if we don’t.

Have a great week,

Linda Bauer Darr

Linda Bauer Darr

Engineering Influence Podcast Ad

April 24, 2024


ACEC NEWS, ACEC NEWS / ADVOCACY, Workforce Development

Scroll To Top