Leadership and Strategy: Working to be knowledgeable owners of highway design
The Ministry of Transportation has responsibility for the planning, engineering design and maintenance of the transportation infrastructure across the province. This includes geometric, highway safety, electrical, traffic, bridge and geotechnical design. Prior to 2002 the majority of highway engineering design work was carried out within the Ministry by public service employed Professional Engineers (P. Eng) and technicians. However, in 2002, as part of an overall reduction in the Public Service, a decision was made to reduce the capacity of internal engineering design capability and to contract a good portion of this work to the private sector.
In addition to the move to contract-out services, over the next decade, the Ministry was expecting a high rate of retirement and were challenged to recruit and retain professional engineers.
In order to effectively manage its engineering services contracts the ministry recognized the need to retain the ability to be ‘knowledgeable owners’ of the transportation system. For highway engineering design this meant retaining and training, as required, design engineers with enough experience to effectively oversee the work of the engineering services consultants. As one ministry employee stated:
“If you are going to criticize someone about how they play the piano – you better have some idea of how to play that piano yourself’."
The ministry recognized that it was at risk of losing key professionals with the knowledge to oversee the highly technical projects related to highway design. It currently takes at least four years of post-graduate experience for a graduate engineer to obtain her or his professional certification (P.Eng). The ministry has an Engineer-in-Training (EIT) program whereby newly graduated engineers are hired to work in a variety of situations and projects for four years to gain sufficient experience so they may apply for their professional certification. However, with limited in-house design work it was difficult at times to provide these young professionals with enough exposure to engineering design work.
As part of their succession and strategic planning, the ministry recognized that it had to find ways to establish opportunities to provide more engineering design experience than was currently available. To do this, the ministry set up or expanded in-house engineering design teams operating out of the Kamloops and Prince George regional offices. In addition to recruiting design engineers, the Ministry was now also able to provide more design experience to those in the existing EIT program.
Although there remain challenges in ensuring that the ministry has the right level and breadth of engineering technical expertise, having some expanded design in-house is helping the organization better oversee the work of engineering consultants.