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Looking to the Sky: Drones and Rising Stars

By Chad Clinehens

For the first time in the history of Civil+Structural Engineer Magazine, winners from Zweig Group’s Rising Stars Awards and the Engineering Drone Video of the Year competition will share the same issue.  Obvious connections between the sky, drones, etc. aside, I think there is a useful analogy that can be drawn between these two competitions that highlight different aspects of the AEC industry. 

Over the last decade, drones and UAVs have traced an ascending path in terms of use and influence on practice.  The first drones deployed for AEC industry purposes allowed us to see new perspectives—giving us new ways to maintain, inspect, and market our projects. It’s amazing to see how drones and UAVs have changed the world of surveying and civil engineering.  Once a small niche, these machines now give us much easier access to job sites, provide important data for downstream visualizations, and offer amazing perspectives on our projects.  As a Civil Engineer who has spent time in marketing, I have a high appreciation for the profound impact this technology has had on the industry.

Just over a decade ago, drones were an uncommon sight on engineering and construction projects.  Now, they are integral in the way we do things—helping us survey job sites and offering benefits in safety, speed, and budget.  The quality of the videos submitted in this year’s EDVY competition is a testament to the investment the AEC industry has made into drone and UAV technology, which has markedly increased the way we construct and maintain the built environment.  Through this development, there is a thread that connects the EDVY competition with our 2024 Rising Stars in expanding our investment in the future.

Like all aspects of a firms’ future, its young professionals represent a significant investment with the potential to positively change the way things are done in the future.  One of my favorite parts of Rising Stars every year is that it illustrates how investing in young professionals extends far beyond conversations about financials.  For me, a major component of investing in young professionals consists of acknowledging and celebrating their backgrounds and accomplishments.  Rising Stars is a great opportunity to do just that.  These young professionals are recognized because someone took the time and effort to identify, listen to, and act on their behalf.  Whether it was a member of their firm’s marketing staff, a colleague, or a mentor, those who nominated this year’s Rising Stars have made a sound investment in their firm’s future.

The other side of the coin in this discussion is being open to the change that comes as a result of these investments.  The worst stance we can take as leaders in the AEC industry is relying on “the way things have always been done.”  The evolution of drones in the AEC industry has been dramatic, but one could argue that adoption lagged behind advancement for many years.  As an industry, we have a hesitancy in adopting new technologies quickly, and, although not all firms are the same way, we often struggle with this adoption because it requires change.  The same can be said for new ideas and ways of doing things that come from our young and emerging leaders.  To reap the full benefits of investing in our young leaders, we must be open to the change that stems from their influence and involvement.  That is not to say that every idea should be adopted without scrutiny, but, rather, that these young professionals should be given space and support to grow and thrive within your firm’s culture.