Diverse business drives diverse customer needs
Prior to the recession, management spent time diversifying the business as a way to grow, not through any prior knowledge of tough times ahead.
Doyle-Ahern says the company worked in many different markets, but didn’t push hard to get EMH&T’s name out there — relying on repeat business.
The staff, however, was capable of a lot more, allowing Doyle-Ahern and others to focus on broadening project opportunities years before the market downturn with municipalities, hospitals, universities, the rail industry and so on.
This diversification was one of the reasons EMH&T made it through the tough times.
“And frankly as wonderful as that is, it’s awfully challenging because it requires you to understand your client needs in a lot of different ways. They don’t all want the same thing from us,” Doyle-Ahern says.
Consulting engineers are hired to solve problems, so employees need to be able to understand specific needs and resolve them.
In order to emphasize project management and problem-solving, Doyle-Ahern says you need to constantly talk about it.
“It needs to be part of the mission of the company, the purpose of the firm,” she says. “So, part of my job is to set that tone and to constantly talk about it, which I do. Sometimes that’s in groups. Sometimes that might be one-on-one. It’s with all of the new employees. It’s with existing employees. It’s a constant thing that’s here every day.”
The company also does yearlong, invitation-based project manager training with younger project managers or people with more of a technical background. It teaches them how to manage a project and think about client needs.
The bulk of the learning, however, comes from on-the-job interactions with other team members and supervisors.
“We can set them up with the basics, but at the end of the day people get mentored by what they see around them,” Doyle-Ahern says. “We have a really great senior staff here that understands all this, and they are all part of that training effort.”
A shortage of quality candidates
Getting the right people who have the technical know-how and the ability to manage projects while solving client problems isn’t getting any easier.
The numbers of engineers coming into the field is less than the numbers of those leaving. Engineers who lost their jobs during the recession have moved on to other things, and baby boomers are moving out of the workforce.
EMH&T started rehiring a few years ago. Doyle-Ahern says the company has had to bring in recruiters for the first time and now looks for candidates outside of Ohio.