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Education of Structural Designers (Draftsman)

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Matt Steiner wrote:
"The structural department of our division of a large A/E firm has 8
engineers.  We recently lost one of our designers and are down to two
from three.  The architects in charge will not allow us to hire another
structural designer unless they have a four year college degree.

What is the consensus on educational requirements for structural
designers?"


Matt,
This got pretty good play on the list, but I'll add my two cents' worth.
I've worked for 5 companies over 20 years.  In the structural and civil
areas, almost all of them have recognized a split between degreed people
(engineers) and non-degreed or two-year degreed people.  These people
start life as draftsmen.  Then, when they've got 5 or so years
experience and are able to function somewhat independently, or when the
company gets tired of paying them time-and-a-half for overtime, they get
re-labelled "designers."  These three defining criteria tend to happen
almost simultaneously, followed shortly after by a new computer monitor
and a radical drop in overtime.

My first boss, who was near retirement when I was fresh out of school,
used to bemoan the good old days when engineers had to work on the
boards for a couple years before they were allowed to do structural
design.  I pointed out to him that he was the boss, and if he wanted me
to draw I would.  He didn't.  I'm glad, because while I've picked up the
plan-layout skills I need, those first years of engineering experience
under his excellent tutelage were irreplaceable.

Our group here, to pick an example, currently has three people,
designers, all of whom have over 20 years of experience.  Even our
younger engineers, who are pretty proficient at CAD, give their final
drafting work to these guys, because they're so good at it, although the
engineers may draw details on CAD to give to them.  However, we haven't
had such good luck hiring new talent in that arena; the new kids out of
tech school are wizards with CAD, but they always want to tell our 20
year guys how it really should be done; and they don't know what they're
drawing, just how to draw.

Other groups, not blessed with senior designers like us, like to hire
EIT's right out of school and use them for drafting.  This works well
for both the department and the young engineers, for a while.  The
problem is that the old guys who can't or won't draw (like me) still
need draftsmen, and after 3 or 4 years the young engineers get tired of
picking up redlines.  If they all move up to doing full-fledged
engineering, there aren't enough drafters.  You can hire more new guys
and basically count on some of the mid-level people leaving to maintain
some balance, but it's kind of a pyramid scheme.  If the economy slows
and hiring stops, which happens, these young engineers are trapped as
drafters for 7 or 8 years.  They can barely pass the PE, because they've
never been permitted to do design calcs, or given their own projects.
They get frustrated and leave.  So, these groups end up training a lot
of talent for other companies, meanwhile paying engineer salaries for
drafters.

There's kind of a cultural thing at work here, too.  Many of these
senior designers, had they been born 40 years later, would have gone on
to college and become engineers.  But going to college wasn't as much of
a given back then.  Now (and I recognize how prejudicial this sounds)
the kids who end up at the local tech school, as a generality, are the
kids who cut classes to go smoke after auto shop class in high school.
Most of the kids who took math after ninth grade go to college now, and
they become engineers rather than drafters.

To sum up:  the best you can do in your situation is hire someone else's
designer with 10 or more years experience.  The next best option is to
cave to the architects and hire an EIT, then try to figure out a plan to
allow him or her to grow enough to stay with you.  Or figure on just
using them until they realize they aren't going anywhere, and leave.  If
you follow that last option, you'll eventually get what you deserve, but
you may get away with it for a while.

OK, maybe more than two cents.

Mike Hemstad, P.E.
TKDA
St. Paul, Minnesota



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