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Industry Discussion

Outlook for Consulting Engineers

This sector is made up of a number of consulting firms and individuals who provide consultant engineering services. Their businesses tend to service the major construction projects (industrial, government infrastructure, mining and oil and gas etc) and include design reviews, design works, industrial process reviews, technical evaluations of equipment, management of construction projects, environmental projects and more. They tend to provide and review services utilising their specialist skills and are often utilised during feasibility studies, design works, design reviews and general technical and project management services.

According to IBIS World, this sector is showing strong growth largely due to construction projects in the infrastructure, mining and oil and gas sectors, with an annual growth figure in October 2011 quoted at 5%. Equally impressive is the statistic that the industry employs over 100,000 people with a revenue stream of $29b. See www.ibisworld.com.au for further information. The Engineering Consultancy Services Market Research Report published in October 2011 is now available and provides valuable insights into this sector. Likewise, see Consult Australia Outlook 2011 which provides a detailed profile of this industry and provides a basis for businesses to assess their risk and growth opportunities ( www.consultaustralia.com.au/publications).

We are seeing growing competition for these increasingly scarce resources, as is evidenced by the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh's visit to WA trying to drum up interest in projects in QLD. According to CCI WA Chief Executive in his statement of 26th October 2011, Australia needs a broad coordinated approach in response to growing resource needs and he predicts that an additional 488,000 workers will be required in WA over the next 10 years with current population trends indicating a shortfall in excess of 200,000. Clearly, growth around Australia is strong in all sectors, including consulting engineering.

Setting up a Consulting Engineering Company

There are many engineering professionals who consider setting up a business to provide engineering consulting services. There are a number of things to research and investigate before setting out.

Make a list of what you need to do so that you can plan and manage the cost and time to implement the list you create. This list should include things like:

  • What service will you provide?
  • What market will you service?
  • What will you call yourself, and will you develop a brand?
  • Have you done enough market research to make sure your idea is a viable business?
  • What fees can you charge?
  • When will you go into business?
  • How will you go into business?
  • What legal entity do you need to set up?
  • What are your obligations as a Company Director?
  • What terms and conditions will you engage my services under?
  • What cash do you have to start the venture and do you have enough capital / cash-flow to sustain yourself?
  • Where will you work from?
  • Where will you get your work from?
  • What skills do you need, and are any formal qualifications / licences / accreditations needed?
  • What advice do you need to get (legal, accounting, taxation, financial, insurance, etc)?
  • Are you ready?

The Australian Government have a vast number of resources and guides to help you to answer these questions. See www.business.gov.au for more information.

Finding a Consultant Engineer/Consultant Engineering Firms

Finding the right consultant takes time and preparation. It is not as easy as you might think at first, so set aside some time to prepare. In preparing, you will need to develop a clear idea of what consulting engineering services you are seeking. This gives you the platform to start your search. In doing so, you must include some time to not only find the consulting engineer, consulting engineers or consulting engineering firm, but also to determine what's required in allowing them to do the work you need doing. Expect some effort to get the best out of the consultant engineer or consulting engineering firm you chose.

The following is a list of tips and issues to consider before engaging a consultant engineer / consulting engineers or a consulting engineering firm:

  • What is the task you want undertaken?
  • What expertise skills will you require?
  • What is your timing?
  • What terms and conditions will you engage their services?
  • Who will own the intellectual property?
  • What fees are you willing to pay?
  • What selection criteria will you set for your search?
  • Do you have references or referral sources to start your search with? If yes, what did the referee say about the consultant?
  • Look at relevant industry directories.
  • Make a short list and then meet with and interview the consultant to determine whether you can establish a relationship, and to confirm that they can meet your needs, timeframes and expectations.
  • Scope out the actual services and ask the consultant for a specific proposal for your consideration.
  • Undertake due diligence and reference checking to make sure that they are suitably qualified / skilled to perform the work you need done.
  • What facilities do you need to provide the consultant with - are these available when required?
  • If possible, look at their accomplished work and their credentials.
  • Consider your first impression and your last impression before making a choice as this is a good way to tap into your 'gut feel'.
  • Ask all the questions you have, and don't be afraid to ask 'silly questions' as there is no such thing.
  • Agree the final scope of work and outcome for your project with the selected consultant, before finally engaging them.
  • Measure their performance against your agreed progressive completion targets.
  • Start again if you are not satisfied with your initial outcome, as getting it wrong will be costly in dollars and in your time.

Is There a Difference Between a Consultant Engineer and a Contract Engineer?

This largely depends on the industry you are in. In the mining and industrial construction industry, a contract engineer is actually a professional who manages and administers contracts. However, a contract engineer may also be an independent contractor who provides contract engineering services. These are usually 'one man bands' that provide ad hoc engineering consulting services in their area of speciality.

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