According to a 2010 U.S. Department of Labor article, jobs for civil engineers are expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations during the next seven years because engineers are needed to contribute to private enterprise and to maintain and expand the country’s infrastructure. However, civil engineers currently face fierce competition for jobs within the construction industry as they wait for projects to increase and the economy to rebound.
Similar to many industries, professional development is important for design, engineering, and construction professionals, and it becomes nearly essential during times of lagging employment. The pursuit of professional certification and certificate programs from industry leaders such as the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) is an effective way to learn and demonstrate new skills. These programs can help engineers become more efficient and better communicators, making them more valuable employees and distinguishing them from their competitors.
Knowledge for a changing industry
The job duties of many civil engineers are changing as they are expected to become increasingly well-rounded. Civil engineers have always taken on a variety of roles within the construction industry, such as designing and managing projects. In the current industry climate, they are expected to maintain these roles and often perform other duties, such as dealing with engineering and construction contract documentation and specifications. To perform all of these jobs effectively, civil engineers must have a comprehensive understanding of the entire project delivery process, including the documentation and the job duties of everyone involved with each project.
CSI’s certificate and certification programs help engineers learn how different industry professionals work together to deliver high-quality projects on time and within budget constraints. Understanding every construction professional’s role helps prevent miscommunication, duplicated efforts, and errors in project implementation and design.
The certificate and certification programs offered by CSI also allow engineers to demonstrate knowledge of tools that are widely used in the construction industry. For example, the certificate and certification programs teach engineers about the structure and use of MasterFormat, a standard used on the vast majority of commercial and public construction projects in the United States and Canada. North American construction professionals use MasterFormat to organize written project information such as project manuals and specifications, cost estimates, manufacturer data such as catalogs, construction files (particularly submittals files) and more. MasterFormat facilitates communication among the project’s stakeholders – including the engineer and their subconsultants – making it an important tool for engineers to understand.
A detailed understanding of construction documents and tools also helps engineers solve problems that arise during the project delivery process. For example, if an engineer has a comprehensive understanding of construction contracts, he or she may be able to determine who is responsible for fixing a problem or performing a duty. Engineers who have a comprehensive understanding of specifications are more likely to be able to figure out whether a product fits a project’s needs, and to better handle construction issues and construction claims.
CSI offers several certificate and certification programs that give engineers an overview of the construction industry and a more in-depth look at specific disciplines. CSI programs of interest to civil engineers include the following:
- Construction Documents Technologist (CDT) certificate;
- Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) certification; and
- Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA) certification.
The CDT certificate program provides foundation training in construction documentation. It is the most basic program offered by CSI, giving construction professionals an overview of a building project from start to finish. The program gives construction professionals a look at each job role within a building project, and it teaches them how construction documents are prepared and interpreted. In addition to offering an overview of project management and completion, the CDT serves as the prerequisite to CSI’s advanced certification exams.
The CCS and CCCA certification programs build on the CDT certificate program. The CCS teaches engineers how to expertly prepare documents. CCS-certified engineers gain advanced skills in specification development, allowing them to assist with using specification-writing software during a building project. This certification is very rigorous and is recommended for engineers who spend significant amounts of time doing project specifications. The CCS also focuses on helping construction professionals develop an in-depth understanding of agreements and conditions of contracts, and their relationship to specifications.
The CCCA teaches professionals how to interpret construction contracts quickly and accurately. It focuses on bidding and negotiating procedures and construction observation and inspection. In addition, it teaches engineers how documents are affected by the type of contract being used during the project, and how the responsibilities of construction professionals change when they work on different types of projects.
Getting ahead in a competitive industry
Professional certification programs help new graduates, mid-career, and late-career engineers gain an edge in the job market because they help them demonstrate both general and specified skills that hiring managers seek. They also serve as a measure of quality assurance.
Many construction industry firms – including my firm, Malcolm Pirnie, the Water Division of ARCADIS U.S. Inc. – encourage their employees to seek certificates and certifications as part of their professional development. I started the CSI certification program at our firm in 1996 to help engineers gain a complete view of the construction process and how all of the elements fit together. The CSI Program at ARCADIS, which is completely voluntary, attracted about 280 participants in 2011. It has been very helpful since its instatement because it has allowed staff members to communicate with each other with the same knowledge base; it has introduced junior staff to several of the firm’s senior staff to create links that foster improved performance by the firm and its staff on projects; and it has created a dialogue about construction issues that has taught many engineers how to become more effective professionals.
CSI’s programs also are useful for new graduates – and even engineering students – because they teach engineers skills they will need to be successful in their jobs but that often are not covered in university programs. Most university engineering programs do not sufficiently introduce practical industry skills, such as writing and interpreting construction documents, which engineers will need once they are on the job. The new graduates who have these skills listed on their resumes will likely gain a competitive advantage over those who do not because potential employers will know that they have the skills they need to hit the ground running.
CSI’s programs are very useful for mid-career and late-career engineers because they show colleagues and potential employers that they are interested in expanding their skills and keeping up with industry trends. The professionals who gain these certifications can show everyone in the industry that they have the skills necessary to contribute to projects efficiently and effectively.
Certification and certificate programs also help engineers of all experience levels who are trying to get involved in specialized projects, such as green building projects. Engineers who pass the CSI exams can show employers that they are able to manage the requirements of green building projects because they understand issues such as documents and specifications related to LEED program requirements.
Finally, CSI’s certificate and certification programs are virtually the only such programs by a professional, construction industry organization aimed at teaching project participants these important and basic elements of capital project implementation.
CSI offers many support options for engineers who are interested in taking a certification or certificate program exam. For example, the national CSI organization offers online test preparation courses and free study guides. In addition, a number of local CSI chapters offer additional forms of support to their members, such as exam preparation courses.
All engineers who are interested in taking the CDT exam should also obtain a copy of the CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide. The guide is part of a series of new practice guides that CSI is developing to give construction professionals the information they need to prepare for certification exams and keep up with industry trends. The new practice guides also make exam preparation materials more affordable. For comprehensive exam preparation, professionals can also take the CDT Prep Course, which was developed for engineers, architects, and contractors who work with construction documentation.
Gerard P. Cavaluzzi, Esq., is vice president and senior legal counsel for ARCADIS, U.S. Inc., a global environmental engineering and consultancy. He is an expert in the areas of construction claim analysis and resolution, construction document drafting, professional liability, and risk management issues. He is a member of the ACEC Legal Counsel Forum and the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee.
Learn more about CSI’s certificate and certification programs and test preparation or register for an exam at www.csinet.org/Main-Menu-Category/Certification.aspx.