NSPE Annual Meeting
1. State and national leaders will participate in a two-day NSPE State Leader Conference. The conference focuses on building strong leadership teams. Day one will facilitate a session on association "Roles, Rules, and Responsibilities." Leaders learn life-enhancing skills that will help them be a better leader. Day two will begin with a face-to-face session with NSPE leaders. PE topics of importance, best practice exchange, and an interactive session (elevator pitch) with Ira Koretsky, the chief storyteller, will round out the two-day session.
2. The most prestigious awards granted by the National Society of Professional Engineers will be presented during the NSPE Awards of Excellence Luncheon. The NSPE Distinguished Service Award and the NSPE Young Engineer of the Year Award will be conferred. In addition, the NSPE-PEI New Product Awards and the NSPE-PEE Engineering Excellence Award will be presented.
3. "NSPE Education Workshop: A Day of Engineering Substance" (ethics and licensure)...participants will earn 7 PDHs for only $99. All-day session includes lunch with "speaker of note.”
4. During the educational workshop lunch, NSPE’s partnership with EPA Energy Star will be introduced by EPA speaker, National Program Manager Bob Sauchelli. Bob will explain the EPA Energy Star building program and highlight how PEs are crucial to its success.
5. NSPE Educational Foundation Golf Tournament. This tournament benefits the NSPE Educational Foundation, state educational foundations, and interest group scholarships.
Quality Assurances Without PEs
Danny L. Kahler, P.E., PTOE
Danny L. Kahler, P.E., PTOE, owner of Kahler Engineering Group in Dallas, shares his thoughts on “The Social Responsibility of Construction Assurance” in May’s PE magazine.
PEs play a big role in making sure public and private construction projects follow the approved plans and specifications via quality assurance. Many states, like Kahler’s home state of Texas, require PEs to approve these projects via inspections or “sign-offs.” They can also make judgments on smaller changes to plans if the PE determines those changes are within the scope of the law and the integrity of the project.
However, some contractors and building companies sometimes try to go it alone without a PE or with a severely inexperienced PE who’s expected only to sign off on changes and rarely, if at all, visit a construction site.
Some contractors are now bringing in constructions managers, test labs, or professionals with third-party certifications in lieu of PEs. All of these professionals have their benefits, Kahler says, but none is a substitute for a certified PE.
Having a PE on site and overseeing quality assurance on a project is beneficial beyond the legally mandated reasons. PEs can detect errors and omissions in final plans before construction starts, act as a go-between bringing concerns and feedback to design engineers on the project, act as a filter for project overseers by handling small, technical concerns, refer more complex issues to higher ups, and keep design and construction camps separate so problem solving goes smoother.
For PEs, construction quality assurance offers a chance to hone and improve skills in their own realm. Design skills especially can see a quality improvement, Kahler says. While you can learn plenty of design tenants through guidelines, more nuanced skills come through practice. A PE gets that practice on the job performing quality assurance. Finding and stopping small problems both prevents big problems and familiarizes PEs with the issues that sometimes fall through the cracks.
Of course, there will always be obstacles to providing and performing the needed quality assurance inspections and oversight. Some contractors view the overseeing PE as someone who doesn’t “produce” anything and try to sidestep or cut out having a PE supervise (unless statutorily required). Other times it’s tough to find a PE experienced in both design and construction. Industry pressures prospective PEs to focus on one area or the other, which can make quality assurance oversight difficult for a less-experienced PE. Looking at a project from both sides of the conceptual and practical construction process can help a PE perform the quality assurance task effectively.
Steps to Improvement
Identifying that there is no PE supervision is the first step in improving an unsupervised situation. Multiple requests from the contractor for information or changes, decisions from property owners that do not demonstrate sound engineering, and changes to design documents to accommodate construction mistakes are all signs a PE might not be overseeing construction.
Convincing property owners that hiring a PE is cheaper than possible construction mistakes is also a good strategy. A diplomatic approach is key here: facility owners often view PEs offering suggestions as sticking their noses where they don’t belong. A skilled PE can teach a facility owner how important it is to have a PE overseeing quality assurance while maintaining a positive business relationship with that owner.
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Health Care Reform
On March 23rd, President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590) and the Reconciliation Bill, Health Care and Education Affordability Act (H.R. 4872).
Employees, firm leadership, and the general public alike, whether for or against the reform, are trying to get a handle on how it will affect them. New regulations are being published with detailed guidance on how to implement the reforms that will affect group health insurance plans. Here is a brief overview based on preliminary information. You can find more detailed information at the following links:
Some plans’ medical benefits may be exempt from some of the new provisions at this time, so consult an HR professional for additional information.
Beginning on June 1, 2010:
- Pre-existing condition limitations will be eliminated on children up to age 19.
- Children up to age 26, regardless of IRS dependent status, will be eligible for a parent’s employer-sponsored coverage if the child does not have access to other employer-provided coverage.
- Lifetime limits on “essential” health benefits will be removed (pending regulations and guidance to be issued by the Department of Health & Human Services).
- Small Business Tax credits for small employers’ contributions to purchase health insurance for employees.
- Rebates for Medicare Part D enrollees who enter the “donut hole.”
Beginning on January 1, 2011:
- Over-the-counter drugs will no longer be eligible for reimbursement under a health care flexible spending account (FSA), unless prescribed by a physician.
- Creation of a Simple Cafeteria Plan as a vehicle for small businesses to provide tax-free benefits to their employees.
- Employers will begin reporting the cost of each employee’s group health coverage (including health, dental and vision insurance premiums) on your W-2 in 2011. The cost will not be treated as taxable income, but informational.
- Fifty-percent discount on all brand-name drugs for Medicare Part D enrollees in the “donut hole.”
Beginning in 2012:
- Plans will begin using a standardized benefit summary making it easier for you to compare benefits between different plans.
Beginning in 2013:
- Annual contributions to health care FSA will be capped at $2,500 per year.
- Taxpayers earning at least $200,000 (or $250,000 if married filing jointly) will have a 0.9% increase in Medicare payroll tax on their earnings above the threshold. These individuals will also pay a new 3.8% Medicare tax on unearned income (e.g. capital gains interest, dividends, and other investment income).
- Increased income threshold for claiming itemized deduction for medical expenses from 7.5% to 10%.
Beginning in 2014:
- All children under the age of 26, regardless of their access to other employer-sponsored coverage, will be eligible for coverage under a parent’s employer-sponsored plan.
- Any pre-existing condition limitations in medical plans will be removed.
- Waiting periods before coverage begins will be limited to no longer than 90 days.
- Annual limits on “essential” health benefits may not be imposed.
- All Americans and legal residents will be required to have a minimum level of health coverage or pay a penalty.
- Employers with 50 or more employees may face a penalty tax if they do not provide acceptable affordable coverage to their full-time employees.
- The health insurance Exchanges will be available for individuals and small businesses to purchase health insurance, through individual states. There is no guarantee that coverage provided to an individual through an Exchange will be more affordable than acceptable employer-provided coverage.
- If an employee’s cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored plan is more than 9.5% of household income, he or she may be eligible to opt-out of coverage and receive federal subsidies through a state-based Exchange.
- If an employee’s cost of coverage is between 8–9.8% (to be fixed to 9.5%) of household income, the employer may provide a voucher, with a value equal to the employer contribution under its plan. Employees may use this voucher to purchase subsidized coverage through an Exchange.
Beginning in 2017:
- Large employers may be eligible to purchase coverage from a state-based Exchange.
Beginning in 2018:
- High cost health plans will pay a 40% excise tax. The tax is imposed on the plan provider (usually the insurance carrier), not directly on employees covered under the plan. Under certain self-insured scenarios, the employer would be responsible for the excise tax.
This overview is an interpretation of detailed and complicated legislation. It does not cover all aspects of the reform.
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Skilled Labor Shortages Are Still Problematic for Construction
“Build it, and they will come!” This approach to project planning worked well, of course, in the popular movie Field of Dreams. But in the current construction marketplace, fielding a skilled labor workforce is beginning to pose greater challenges for project owners and members of the construction team.
One of the core principles that evolved out of a long-term campaign of The Business Roundtable’s Construction Committee—the Construction Industry Cost Effectiveness Project—emphasizes that good personnel management enables people to make their maximum contribution, develops their potential, and ensures that skilled craftsmen are used only in those tasks where their skills are required.
Although construction workers are usually contractor employees, the Roundtable notes, it is in the owners’ interest to require that they be managed and used effectively and to accept the associated costs. Unfortunately, recent survey and census data from numerous organizations point toward a growing shortage of skilled workers in construction and heavy equipment industries.
The growth rate of the construction workforce has been steadily declining since the 1970s. Also, both the U.S. Census Bureau and reports from private consulting firms indicate the workforce will begin to experience a negative growth rate beginning in 2015. Census estimates further project that by 2020 one out of every two people in the U.S. will be older than 50. Many of these older workers, however, are willing to stay in the workforce longer or even re-enter it after retirement.
In March 2008, the Construction Labor Research Council conducted a survey of more than 6,000 contractors nationwide and found that the largest expansion in decades in industrial construction is causing significant shortages in the workforce within single and multiple trades. The findings come from a study, The 2008 Construction Industry Conditions Survey, which was sponsored by construction industry unions to determine the impact of increased job demand within various sectors of the construction market. According to the survey results, those trades most often associated with labor shortages include boilermakers, pipefitters, ironworkers, operating engineers, and electricians.
With the availability of an adequate supply of skilled trade labor becoming less certain, construction stakeholders are responding by adopting nontraditional work practices, which in some cases increase labor costs beyond the contractual wage and fringe rate. In fact, to cope with temporary labor shortfalls, many contractors are posting weekly work schedules of more than 40 hours; some have schedules exceeding 70 hours. Additionally, supplemental payments that are $1 to $3 above scale are being made on a project-by-project basis in order to attract sufficient and adequately skilled trade workers.
However, construction professionals point out that real solutions to labor shortages must be long-term in their approach and address both the recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce. To that end, the Construction Industry Institute formed a research team more than a decade ago to examine the U.S. Department of Labor’s forecasted workforce shortages for the new millennium. The research team’s early findings still hold true today: contractors that experience an employee retention rate of 80% or better realize profits on more jobs, complete more projects on or ahead of schedule, and experience better safety performance.
Based on its research, CII recommends that owners should prequalify contractors according to these factors: employee wages and benefits; overall trade worker retention rates; attributes used to attract and retain trade workers; and efforts in craft training, assessment, and certification to enhance the employee’s career development process.
Recommendations to contractors include the following: providing competitive wage and benefit packages; monitoring and using retention rates to diagnose company field staffing trends; providing a safe workplace; implementing a skill assessment process; enhancing permanent employment opportunities; adopting certification programs to ensure qualified trade workers; and treating employees with respect.
How is your construction firm handling skilled labor shortages? PEC would appreciate hearing from your company on this topic for inclusion in a future article. Please send any feedback or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2009-10 PEC Executive Board
David Hunley, P.E.
Immediate Past Chairman
James D. Goedert, Ph.D., P.E.
Paul J Bakken, P.E., FNSPE
Thomas L. Paxson, P.E., FNSPE
Donn R. Zang, P.E., FNSPE
North Central Region
Paul E. Harmon, P.E.
James B. Harper, P.E.
Glen R Schwalbach, P.E., FNSPE
Western & Pacific Region
David Ray Shields, Ph.D., P.E.
PEC Staff Liaison:
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If you would like to sponsor the next edition of PEC Reporter, contact the Professional Engineers in Construction for more information.
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