Engineers are having great difficulty substantiating the value of proposed fees to potential clients. With more than twenty-two years in the business, I still face each request for a fee proposal with a certain amount of trepidation. The million dollar question is will the client accept the proposal? This trepidation is born out of the fact that I may be forced to convince beyond a shadow of a doubt that the proposed service is value for money
Tertiary engineering education did not prepare me adequately for this reality, as my first few positions as an engineering graduate were far removed from the reality of business. Would any one readily question GE about their value for money? After all GE’s tag line was “We bring Good Things to Life”. Goodyear Jamaica was the sole tyre manufacturer and as such could determine the price of their tyres, and the consumers was left with no choice but to purchase their brand or brands that they offered. The Caribbean Cement Company was void of competition leaving consumers with no choice. The practicing consulting engineer on the other hand has to work in earnest to receive confirmation of an accepted proposal.
I have practiced my craft in several jurisdictions and the reality that I faced in each jurisdiction as a practicing consulting engineer is the same. Multi-lateral agencies such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, all have a healthy respect for the practice of engineering and the value an engineer brings to the projects they funded in the public sector.
The private sector on the other hand, is a different scenario, specifically in jurisdictions where regulation of the profession is not strictly enforced. Jamaica, for example, has an Engineering Registration Act, the Professional Engineers Registration Act 1987. The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago also has similar registration legislation, however, the enforcement in both jurisdictions is nothing compared to the requirements in Florida. The Registration Board in Trinidad encourages citizens to use a Registered Engineer for construction design or works, but their legislation does not effectively prevent non-registered engineers from practicing. The local authority does not insist on signed and sealed design documentation. In Jamaica it is slightly different, as the Registration Board can prevent unlicensed engineers from practicing. The problem is local authorities do not require mandatory signed and sealed construction design documentation. This does not apply in Florida, where the signing and sealing of design documentation is stringently enforced. Registration Boards in defined jurisdictions are mandated to ensure public safety from sub-par engineering designs and works.
Furthermore, apart from the public safety issues, engineers add value, which is one of the most important intangible products. The homeowner whose cut-stone retaining wall failed the moment it was backfilled placed trust in his construction workers, void of a design executed and supervised by an engineer. This is just one such avoidable and costly catastrophe. The operator at the water treatment plant whose plant suffered a total shutdown on a ground-fault failure event, because the electrical protective devices where not properly coordinated by an engineer, is yet another example. The business owner, who having taken the decision to expand his operation and belated discovered that the cost of the electrical infrastructure needed to support this expansion is not affordable, as the earlier electrical distribution system was not designed by an engineer, but rather installed by an electrician devoid of expansion capacity. Engineers bring value to the table by ensuring that designs have the necessary capacity for current and future needs. Thus the failure to use design professionals can be costly.
The number one barrier to accepting the necessity of engineering consultancy is the fee. Clients usually pay attention to the magnitude of the fee proposal and not the tasks as outlined in the proposal. A client’s first reaction to an engineering fee proposal many times is “This is expensive!”. However, on careful analysis it becomes patently clear that the cost of using engineering services as a percentage of the project construction cost is a mere 4%. The logical question that an engineer hopes a client would then ask is can I afford NOT to use this professional input?
Variations can and will occur on construction projects whether or not there is a professional engineering input. However, the variations are significantly more costly to the client when incomplete designs are used in the absence of the required engineering services. As a consequence clients are left with the only option of paying significant premiums during construction by way of variations.
Using consulting engineers from project conception to implementation gives clients the best value for money.