November President's Message
Friday, November 2, 2018
Posted by: Tim Hart
I recently returned from the NCSEA Summit in Chicago. I was impressed that many of the breakout sessions at the Summit were not technical in nature. I did not see a single hysteresis loop the entire week. Instead, I sat in on sessions on post-disaster reconnaissance, equity and engagement, special inspections, and effective communications. There were also sessions on project management, business development, risk management, standard of care, and other “non-technical” topics.
The training that our universities and firms provide to young structural engineers are so often focused on technical subjects. Non-technical subjects are usually learned on the job. Those who want training in these areas often have to seek it out for themselves, sometimes with the support of their firms, sometimes without it.
We are not just in a profession that requires technical skills in order to succeed, but also
we are in a business that requires non-technical skills in order to succeed. We need skills
on how to run a business, how to interact with the public, how to work with public officials (including building and inspection departments), how to effectively manage projects, how to work with other designers and contractors, and so much more.
In some cases, the need for these skills is obvious. One example of where such skills are
important but not so obvious is in the discussion on resilience. Many structural engineers,
including me, have struggled with trying to define resilience and to define the role of the
structural engineer in establishing resilience. This might lead us to avoid the discussion
altogether together and instead focus on issues that are more technical and we are more
confident with handling. However, what does our community want from us? They do not
want to see our finite element models or our project specifications. They want to be assured that the buildings they work and live in will not collapse in an earthquake. They want to get back to their lives after a fire burns down their house or their school. We can use our technical knowledge to develop designs for more resilient buildings, but we need to be able to communicate our knowledge to architects, contractors, building officials, building owners, and the public in order for it to be effective.
Many of our SEAONC, SEAOC, and NCSEA committees focus on these non-technical issues. There are too many committees and initiatives to list in this article. However, there are opportunities to learn about what these committees do. I encourage everyone to come to the SEAONC Committee Outreach Night on November 6 and learn about what the SEAONC committees are working on and how you could use your technical and non-technical skills to assist in their efforts. You can also learn about the educational opportunities that these committees can provide. I also encourage everyone to consider attending both the 2019 SEAOC Convention in Lake Tahoe and the 2019 NCSEA Summit in Anaheim. There is a lot to learn, and there are many opportunities to contribute to the technical and non-technical development of our profession.