Saturday, March 12, 2016

The rise and fall of the consulting class

It's been an interesting perspective to watch as engineering consultancies have been increasingly squeezed by competition, domestic and particularly international.  Many of the perks have been removed, and certainly pressure to complete tasks on time is much higher and the need to be fully chargeable is extremely important.  Many employees that would have slid by in the past (say 10 years ago) are being furloughed, even at the larger firms.  Perhaps especially at the larger firms.  I realize that the public never really appreciates this, simply pointing to the increasing expense of infrastructure projects as if consultants were simply pulling a fast one. 

What is particularly novel (and perhaps a bit disheartening for long-time consultants) is that consultancy has less prestige than it ever had.  (At least some people did relish the idea of working on multiple key projects across the country.)  And, at least in the States (though not really in Canada) the public sector has begun to increase its compensation to the point where it is not absurd for talented engineers and planners to migrate to MPO and state DOTs.  Of course, the most talented usually opted for academia after a couple of years in the trenches as a consultant.

I probably would not encourage my children to become consultants, at least not to plan to do it for a long time.  The main reason this is on my mind is that I have decided to move back to the public sector, starting in April.  There are all kinds of other pressures, particularly when the outcomes the agency I am joining are quite visible and often the decisions taken are often highly criticized.  Overall, it seems like the right move for me, but I can't really get into all the details.  I won't even vow never to return to consulting, though at the moment it seems unlikely, as I would like to finish out my career in a place that feels a bit more stable.

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