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Emerging Engineers Donate Time, Blood as Part of Community Challenge

Engineers at Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas bled more than the average American this year, according to PB’s senior civil engineer, Isabella Bejarano. That’s because members of the company’s Professional Growth Network, a group for engineers with 10 years of experience or less, donated 203 pints of blood as part of PGN’s Community Involvement Challenge.

The young engineers who participated in the challenge, which ran from May 1 to Sept. 13, 2001, recorded over $85,000 in donations and over 11,500 hours of volunteer time. As a point-based competition, employees were grouped by offices. The leading office for volunteer points was Pittsburgh, while Seattle led the offices for amount of money donated. "Members have been working at homeless shelters, tutoring kids, bringing engineering into schools, and building houses for Habitat for Humanity," says Bejarano, a co-founder of the challenge. With 1,300 people involved, 80% of PB’s American work force contributed some volunteer time or donations to the project.

A planning and landscape engineer at PB in Lexington, Ky., Traci Severe was an office representative for the challenge. "Because our work ranges all over the state of Kentucky and into other states like Ohio, this was a chance for us to give back to our local community of Lexington," she says. Although there were only 20 people in the Lexington office, they volunteered for the Red Cross, church activities, and maintenance work for the elderly.

The challenge also allowed people who were already volunteering their time to receive recognition for their work. Tara Olsen, a senior traffic engineer for PB in Seattle, has volunteered for the American Cancer Society since her father died of cancer. "PB acknowledges emerging professionals, whereas at other companies, your voice isn’t heard until you reach a senior level," Olsen says.

The challenge is one of the activities in which members of PGN can participate. With about 350 members in American offices, PGN was designed to help new hires fit into Parsons Brinckerhoff, a large planning, engineering and program management company headquartered in New York. Launched four years ago, the program offers young professionals a network of people to talk to about issues and questions, says Severe. Chairman Robert Prieto designed PGN after noticing the company’s high rate of turnover among younger employees, usually around the age of 30.

"I visited offices to find out what was happening," Prieto says. "I asked managers to arrange meetings for me with six of their young stars. One group suggested a program like PGN to me."

Keeping emerging engineers interested and motivated is one of the biggest challenges of running the company, says Prieto. By formalizing a network for them, they have more leverage within the firm, and become more involved.

"Our retention rates for young people are now way ahead of general turnover rates," Prieto says. "There’s a huge improvement there, and PGN has exceeded my expectations." Most engineering firms have training programs or employee clubs, but most focus groups are geared toward minority groups, such as women, says Prieto. PGN, however, includes members based on their levels of experience. The program also differentiates the firm in competitive contexts, such as college recruiting.

It also makes good business sense, Prieto says. "It’s cheaper to keep an intern than to go find someone new and train them all over again. I’m also scouting them for my replacement," he says.

The Community Involvement Challenge will continue as an annual event, and Bejarano says it will be extended to offices in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. Says Prieto: "It’s only the beginning of what they can accomplish."



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