Inspired Through Meaning

Author(s) K. Rafie
Tunnels & Tunnelling International, April 2022.

New engineering graduates spend years preparing to achieve what they are passionate about and making a difference to society. They also understand that they will spend around a third of each working day interacting with co-workers and managers. For some, this is more than they have with family and friends.

The new generation of engineers understands that choosing a firm or team to work with is as important as choosing a close friend or partner. They seek a team that shares their core personal ideals and social values and understands what they stand for. They seek leaders who prioritise career development and personal growth, not just with pay cheques but with values and decisions.

In the past two decades, I have seen many astounded employers who have lost civil engineering staff to other companies; some, worryingly, to other industries.

Of course, some firms with high-profile projects offering appealing positions and exciting salaries can attract and keep new hires for the short term. But these enticements may not be enough to keep those hires committed to stay when companies go through slow periods or when they cannot even offer the expected salary increases.

If the inducements we give employees to stay put are the ones other well-managed companies can give, i.e., a pay cheque and title, then there is no reason for younger staff not to explore other options when available. It is important to note that there is nothing wrong with providing incentives for retention. The danger is that they work so well in the short term that many employers and employees lose sight of the bigger picture.

When it comes to being deeply devoted or passionate about a company’s long-term vision and future, something more than financial incentives is needed to differentiate the company from other employers. That something is meaning and purpose.

New generation engineers generally need to have a purpose. Otherwise, they may feel lost. When we ask people why they work, among the first responses are typically to ‘pay the rent and bills’ or ‘put food on the table’. Everyone knows though, that in addition to financial security, work needs to provide other benefits, such as opportunities to learn new skills, a chance to engage with others as social beings, the pride in accomplishment, and most importantly, being identified with a meaningful purpose.