Everyone’s definition of the "best civil engineering firm to work for" is unique.

Certainly, it is no surprise that my priorities may differ from yours and that yours may differ from your officemate’s. But research of civil engineering firm employees has shown that certain characteristics are more important than others when assessing what constitutes a great workplace and what makes a great employer.

For the first time this year, we were able to incorporate data collected from civil engineering firm employees into our ranking methods for CE News’ annual contest, which ranks the top 50 civil engineering firms in the industry based on their workplace practices and employee satisfaction levels. Based on feedback from the 2004 Employee Satisfaction Survey, in which 95 firms participated and more than 12,000 people responded, we learned which elements of a firm’s workplace are most and least important to employees. This data was incorporated into our grading method so that traits, benefits, and practices that are most important are valued most highly when comparing firms. Alternately, those that are unimportant—as shown by the data—are valued the least. Much of this data has been shared with the industry during the past year in CE News’ bimonthly column, Workplace Practices, and at our Best Firm To Work For Summit.

Many other changes were made to the contest this year, and you can read about them in the article announcing the results, which begins on page 42. The highlights are that more firms than ever participated and many high-quality newcomers strutted their stuff! I wish to extend my appreciation to all of the firms that competed. Your enthusiasm and interest in being an "employer of choice" is remarkable. Thanks also to the more than 16,000 individuals who took the Employee Satisfaction Survey this year. Your feedback brings credibility to a contest such as this one, and I appreciate that you valued your firm’s desire to compete and our request for your participation in the process.

Ranking the firms is an exciting process and one that is rewarding to me on many levels.

Every year, I hear from firm leaders who tell me that they have appreciated the opportunity to participate in the contest because they learned more about their own firms and how they can improve them. This is wonderful feedback that shows that our contest is not only providing a meaningful way for firms to improve their recruiting and retention efforts—at a time when top-notch employees are difficult to find and keep—but also helping to "raise the bar" of the industry. Of course, the tough part about hosting the contest is that so many great firms are disappointed when they don’t make the list. Hopefully, they will be encouraged by the fact that the competition is tough and they will view the experience as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth.

Also, I would be remiss not to mention the many civil engineers in our CE News family that are confronting the greatest adversity they have ever known. I am sure we will see many individuals and firms rise to greatness in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and we will share their stories. To all of the civil engineers and firms located in the Gulf States, we wish you the best as you tackle the challenges of reestablishing your personal and professional lives.

Our thoughts are with you. We also wish to extend our best wishes to all of the firms and civil engineers that are raising funds, offering jobs to those left unemployed, and providing services to restore the functionality of the devastated communities. Thank you for your leadership.

Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.