It used to be that when people thought of consulting engineers, what often came to mind were consultants on construction projects such as highways, bridges, and high-rise and other complex buildings. However, today’s manufacturers seek design consultants to develop new products or improve existing products; or they seek information technology consultants to implement new software applications to manage human resources, marketing, and/or accounting functions. Service and manufacturing businesses have begun seeking the technical expertise of engineers as they strive to become more efficient in their overall operations. Some of the issues for which business
and industry seek engineering consultants include e-commerce and e-business solutions, cutting time to release new products, and reducing inventory. Consultants also assist in eliminating nonproductive elements of doing business,
Time to complete work in process
Cycle times from conceptualization to market
Manufacturing delays due to downtime
Nonhazardous waste disposal
Inventory cost savings
While the responsibilities and challenges vary widely, there tend to be three types of consulting organizations for which engineers work.
1. Consulting engineering firm. These firms tend to employ specific types of engineers for specific purposes. A good example of this type of consulting firm would be MWH Engineering Company (mwhglobal.com), which works in the areas of energy, infrastructure, water, and wastewater.
2. Design consulting firm. These organizations are hired by major corporations to redesign existing products or design new concept products such as cell phones or roller blades. Companies such as IDEO (ideo.com) and Hertz LaZar Bell, Inc. (hlb.com) are examples of this type of consulting firm.
3. Management consulting firm. These firms are hired by corporations to perform tasks such as the design and implementation of information systems to manage such things as payroll, accounting, or supply chain. Increasingly,
these firms are involved in developing e-commerce and e-business solutions.
Management consulting firms are as diverse as the engineering disciplines themselves. As a result, consulting careers offer an unlimited variety of opportunities for personal growth and development. Doing your research on the type of clients or engagements for which consulting firms hire entry-level engineers is very important. It is also important to learn the potential career development opportunities for entry-level engineers. It is also important to know what percentage of new hires, who remain with the firm, make that career progression that the company describes.
With the proliferation of international, national, regional, and local environmental regulations, environmental compliance has created many opportunities for consulting engineers. Environmental consulting firms provide
services ranging from site assessment to design and construction for environmental compliance. There is strong demand for environmental and chemical engineering consulting services. At international environmental consulting
firms such as Camp Dresser & McKee (cdm.com), engineers are involved in projects to help municipalities better use their water supply or restore and expand transportation sites. They can also be involved in the design of offshore
landfill projects for domestic or foreign governments. As consultants, environmental engineers can become involved in diverse projects related to land reclamation, wastewater treatment, solid and hazardous waste disposal, storm water management, or noise abatement.
Computer science and computer engineering consultants provide an array of services to both corporate and government clients. This type of consulting engineer applies his or her knowledge to such projects as e-commerce, clientserver development, database development, or computer networking design. Others may actually manage the technological assets of their clients. These consulting positions require continuing education as clients look for computer consultants with the most up-to-date knowledge of specific computer hardware, programming languages, and software applications.
Product design consultants are involved in the initial stages of product development. They design and prototype and usually assess the manufacturability of a new product. Some consultants ultimately manage large-scale projects, including product and plant start-ups. In addition, consultants in this area solve material-processing problems; provide an interface with the market in which the product will be sold, including attracting new clients to the company;
and conduct reliability, safety, and compliance testing under contract to a specific client or a group of clients.