Anyone thinking of going to the private sector after getting your PE?

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exp3840

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Hi All.

Have been combing through all these threads as I navigate all the Civil PE tests. I just finished taking my Survey/Seismic tests this week and feel pretty good about it. Now I'm thinking what should I do when I get my license.

I currently work as a Construction Superintendent for a General Contractor, have been since graduation in 2015. It's fast paced, sometimes stressful, but mostly satisfying... and the pay is good. But I was thinking of going into the public sector as either an Associate Engineer, Public Works, or City Engineer. I was wondering if anyone has done the switch (or thinking about it) from private to public after getting their license.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers and good luck to everyone on passing their exams!!!
 

JayUn PE

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I didn't make the switch immediately after getting my license but here's my story. I was in the private side for 14 years working my way from project engineer (CM Firm) to graduate engineer (E/A Firm) to project manager (E/A Firm). Once I got my PE I was promoted to project manager and my priorities shifted more towards managing my team, billability and marketing. An opportunity in the public sector arose and I decided to pull the trigger.

Needless to say I've been in the public side (as a project manager) for a little over 6 years now and it's a breath of fresh air to have steady hours and benefits not afforded to me when I was in the private side. For my situation I'd like to point out that being the in the private side helped build my foundation (construction, design, invoicing, management, public speaking) which helped me easily transition, and also made me a highly desired hiring candidate, to the public side (especially when dealing with engineering consultants and contractors).

Just recently a buddy of mine who at the time was working in the private side (same experience and job functions as me) gave me a call telling me he got a public sector job offer. He weighed all the pros and cons and asked for my input since I am public. I didn't try to sell him on it but I essentially told him what I wrote above. Now he's at his new public sector job and loving it.

There are pros and cons of working in either the private/public sectors and I feel that will heavily depend on your life situation, or where you'd like to take it. Hope I was able to shed a little light to your question. :)
 

USACEOfficer

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I went slightly public after I was working for a small private design firm. By that I went active duty and having been working for the Army Corps since I've been a PE. Overall I like it and get to work cool rewarding projects with a national mission like the covid hospital build outs.
 

kwyjibo

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I did the opposite. I started on the public side (11 years) working for transportation authorities and eventually a railroad. While I liked parts of its (steady hours, benefits, TRAINS) some things really started to erode my desire to work. Public agencies have a way of burying people in positions for their entire careers for any reason, good or bad. Too often I came across someone that was "doing their time" to get out of there, retire, and whatever. There was little to no sense of urgency, or even accountability. I was also union too, which added another layer of drama.

The straw that broke the camels back was after getting my PE I was repeatedly told that promotions were going to be based on seniority and not qualification/experience. I looked elsewhere in the agency only to find the same nonsense where someone who did their "time" made chief/assistant chief/engineering direction/supervising engineer. I was recruited for an assistant chief position for capital projects only to lose the job to someone without an engineering degree that worked in facilities maintenance and landscaping. HR explained that they re-wrote the job description to appeal to more people and allowed for "years of engineering related experience" to be substitutes for a engineering degree and license.

Also, during a annual review 2 years after getting my PE, HR and management said "that's nice to have, but no one told you to do this" and "we don't pay people extra for licenses." However, they also stated that since I had a PE they expected me to be taking responsibility of the department's work despite being a junior (or associate) engineer in title and pay. Imagine a situation of being the lowest guy on the totem pole, and having to either sign things for your superiors because they legally couldn't. After being written up and charged for "insubordination" for refusing to sign & seal or do things beyond my job description, I finally got fed up and left.

Been private for the last 5 years., I also found out from former colleagues that they are paying 4x more to have a outside 3rd party than what it would've cost to make the staffing changes in-house.
 

rodr

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I don't feel like this is a decision that pivots on PE or no PE. I feel it's more of a life timing question.

I very briefly worked private after college but eventually ended up in a public position where I worked in construction long hours along side private construction companies. We were definitely treated and paid much differently. As a public employee I don't get paid as much as the national average for my experience. I am an engineer with a Masters degree and 9 years of experience making about 80k. Currently in a position where I oversee 8 engineers and am in a PE/PM role. I am OT eligible and could/should be working OT more but I am studying for my PE and have two small kids at home.

The reason why I said it is more of a life timing decision is because no one goes public for the money. You do it for the benefits, stability, and balance just as others have mentioned. I have great insurance, I recently had a cesarean and only paid $1500 total. I have friends in the private sector who have paid 10k for the same procedure. The retirement is unlike anything I've ever seen, we get 11% match and mandatory 14% input for a total of 25% going into retirement. I previously worked for an oil company and they only matched 5%. I earn 2 days of leave per month plus 10 holidays.

I agree with what others have said. I am overloaded and I don't have the the people or resources to keep up. I have high turnover in my engineers because they get burnt out and at their level they are only making 40k-70k, they eventually realize they can get more elsewhere for the same amount of stress. I have zero support in getting my PE however it is required in order for me to move beyond my current position. They pay for nothing and I am not allowed to study on the clock. Promotions seem based on seniority instead of best fit. And so on...

My plan is to grow our family while in this position so we can take advantage of the great insurance. Then leave with PE in hand to something that will pay me what I'm worth.
 

exp3840

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I don't feel like this is a decision that pivots on PE or no PE. I feel it's more of a life timing question.

I very briefly worked private after college but eventually ended up in a public position where I worked in construction long hours along side private construction companies. We were definitely treated and paid much differently. As a public employee I don't get paid as much as the national average for my experience. I am an engineer with a Masters degree and 9 years of experience making about 80k. Currently in a position where I oversee 8 engineers and am in a PE/PM role. I am OT eligible and could/should be working OT more but I am studying for my PE and have two small kids at home.

The reason why I said it is more of a life timing decision is because no one goes public for the money. You do it for the benefits, stability, and balance just as others have mentioned. I have great insurance, I recently had a cesarean and only paid $1500 total. I have friends in the private sector who have paid 10k for the same procedure. The retirement is unlike anything I've ever seen, we get 11% match and mandatory 14% input for a total of 25% going into retirement. I previously worked for an oil company and they only matched 5%. I earn 2 days of leave per month plus 10 holidays.

I agree with what others have said. I am overloaded and I don't have the the people or resources to keep up. I have high turnover in my engineers because they get burnt out and at their level they are only making 40k-70k, they eventually realize they can get more elsewhere for the same amount of stress. I have zero support in getting my PE however it is required in order for me to move beyond my current position. They pay for nothing and I am not allowed to study on the clock. Promotions seem based on seniority instead of best fit. And so on...

My plan is to grow our family while in this position so we can take advantage of the great insurance. Then leave with PE in hand to something that will pay me what I'm worth.
Thank you for sharing your experience. Would you mind sharing what you specifically and in what state?
 

bridge_guy

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There isn't much more I can say that has not been already covered by others, but I'll throw in some of my own thoughts and experiences. I do not live in CA, but am pursuing licensure and contemplating relocating there in 2022. I am a licensed engineer in the DC area working in Bridge Design/Inspection, etc. I do not know how much of a consultant heavy state CA is, but in the DC area, the DOT's utilize consultants for a large majority of the Design work, inspection work and CEI services to name a few. If you do want to enter the public sector, I would recommend working in private for 8-10 years and then join. You will learn 3 times as fast and build up a good resume of projects and knowledge. The chances are you can get a higher position in the public sector and at a higher salary if you join with a 8-10 years of private experience. Once you join the public sector, you are more likely to stay in one spot (maybe not) and receive marginal salary adjustments each year. If money is your goal, than the public sector isn't for you, but if you want quality of life, not having people breathe down your neck, nag you about utilization rates, etc. than the public sector is for you.

I am at a DOT now and while it isn't perfect and has its moments of frustration, I don't think I would ever go back to the private sector. Good luck!
 
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