Longview is considering a contract with Gibbs & Olson to fill a void in the city Engineering Department left this year by three resignations and a retirement.
Public Works Director Jeff Cameron said Tuesday that pressure to complete a daunting number of capital projects may have influenced two engineers and a construction manager to resign last month. A long-tenured engineering technician retired in February, he said.
“We have a loss of a significant portion of our engineering staff (while) a lot of projects are in design and about to be constructed,” Cameron said. “It will take a lot of time to recruit employees, and even then it’s a challenge to find good quality candidates.”
A new engineering technician started with the City of Longview last week, but three out of nine positions in the Engineering Department remain vacant, he said.
Current and upcoming projects that require engineering design and inspection include paving the Beech Street right-of-way between California Way and 14th Avenue, improving sidewalks and electrical features around the Shay Locomotive, building a gazebo at R.A. Long Park, constructing the new RiverCities Transit Center and replacing a culvert along Beech Street from 19th to 28th avenues.
“I like having all of these projects because it means (the City Council) recognizes the needs of the city, but it’s a challenge to have the staffing to get them done,” Cameron said. “Long-term, our capital program needs to be scaled back a little bit to be more manageable and put less stress on folks. My personal opinion is that stress is what caused some of the resignations.”
To continue these projects, the Longview City Council Thursday will consider a contract with Gibbs & Olson, a Longview firm, for surveying and engineering services. The regular council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday in Longview City Hall.
Gibbs & Olson would provide engineering services on a project-basis, and the city could end the proposed three-year agreement at any time.The contract is estimated to cost about $400,000 annually and would be paid for with the funding sources for each project.
While it is not an “apples to apples” comparison, Cameron said it is more expensive to hire consultants than to have city engineers.
“I would much prefer to have engineers in-house, but if we cannot find them, we will need to continue to use Gibbs & Olson, and potentially other firms to complete capital improvement projects,” he said.
Cameron said he hopes the contract with Gibbs & Olson will be a short-term solution while the city continues to recruit people for the vacant positions.
However, even private companies have struggled to recruit engineers and engineering technicians, he said. Not many people are entering the engineering technician field and there is a shortage of engineers in a booming economy, Cameron said.
The University of Washington College of Engineering reports that 37 percent of its graduates this year are already employed. And the school estimates that 90 percent of its graduates either employed or in graduate school six months after graduation.
Employment of civil engineers is projected to grow 11 percent between 2016 and 2026, while all occupations are expected to grow 7 percent during that same period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Finding and retaining engineering expertise will continue to be challenging as long as the economy stays healthy, Cameron said.
“If we continue to push people very hard and if we expect them to pick up the slack of these people leaving, I wouldn’t be surprised if other staff starts looking at retirement or employment elsewhere.”