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John Carrato and Michael Carragher, the Chair and Vice Chair of the ACEC Research Institute joined Engineering Influence to talk about the organization's mission, vision and future. 

 

Transcript:

Host:
Welcome to another edition of Engineering Influence, a podcast by the American Council of Engineering Companies. One of the really exciting things that was announced over the past was the development of the ACEC Research Institute, which would be the research arm of the Council. Something that really wasn't there before. While we do now have an impressive advocacy program. While we have a lot of talent on education and even some market research staff, we've never really had a dedicated organization that actually took an analytical look at the industry and trends that are guiding the engineering industry as we move forward into really a world that is based on data technology and, and really just a rapid change in the overall marketplace. And the ACEC Research Institute, which was officially launched at the board of directors meeting just this last month on a virtual platform.

Host:
We wanted to be able to do it personally, but unfortunately in the world we live in right now of COVID, we had to go virtual and we and we released the first promotional effort to announce the ACEC Research Institute. We want to talk about that today. And we're very pleased to be joined by two leaders of the Institute. John Carrato. He is the Chair of the Research Institute. He is also president and CEO of Benesch, a multi-disciplined professional services firm providing civil structural, electrical, mechanical, geo-technical landscape architecture and environmental services. And also we're joined by the Vice Chair, Michael Carragher. Michael is president, CEO of VHB, a multidisciplinary civil engineering consulting and design firm headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts. John and Michael both welcome to the program.

John Carrato:
Thanks Jeff, we're really excited to get the, get the opportunity to talk about these two today.Yeah, it's a great thing. And I wanted to kind of go over the mission here. I cause it's, it's, it's really poignant. The Institute's mission is to deliver knowledge and business strategies that guide and elevate the engineering industry. And it's been tasked with identifying funding and providing industry wide research forecasts and trend analysis that will help capitalize on the rapidly changing nature of technology and society to ensure a sustainable engineering industry, to promote the engineering industries, professions the professions in a central value to society and to inspire future generations to solve the world's most challenging problems through engineering. Not at all an easy task.

John Carrato:
Well, it came to fruition as part of developing the ACEC strategic plan. It was pretty clear that we want to be an influential thought leader in the industry. So the Institute will help accomplish this by being the leading source of injury industry-wide research forecasts and cleanse analysis. So repurposing the existing foundation, which solely focused on scholarships was a great way to stand up the Institute. So that's really what we've done. We've changed the bylaws, we'll still be giving out the scholarships, but primary focus now will be positioning us as a thought leader.

Host:
And I, it's, it's important because as an industry you need to have some kind of framework. You need to have some kind of system in place to be able to actually gather the data about the impact of the industry. Because it's, it's large both in the public sphere and the private market.

Host:
In your, in your opinion I guess we'll start with John and then toss the mic. Why is having the Institute in place and developing research so important both for ACEC as the organization that's trying to get the word out about the importance and the impact of the industry, but also to individual farm executives who are doing the day to day work to maintain and expand their own businesses?

John Carrato:
Well, I, I think you know, things are changing rapidly in our industry, in the world. Whether it be climate change and the need for a more resilient infrastructure or staying ahead of the frenetic pace of emerging technologies. Engineers need to be at the forefront. So one of our goals is to demonstrate that the engineering profession by essential value to society, which kind of lifts all of our boats. If, if we're at the forefront of these things as they come about, it positions our firms to compete for that work as well.

Mike Carragher:
You know, it's interesting, Jeff, our our member firms are sometimes challenged with finding time to contemplate future trends and opportunities and look out there on the horizon and we see the research Institute really having the opportunity to step back to look across that horizon of the possible and kind of organize the broad array of influencing elements and trends and provide some focused insight into which are the key opportunity areas or key areas for research that we should all be thinking about. And in doing so, we'll be able to really be seen and to provide guidance as thought leaders to not only our industry and our industry's leaders, but really to our nation's leaders as they help shape the course of our future together.

Host:
That's a really good point. I mean you're both leaders in the industry leading your own firms and a lot of we hear from our executives, you know, they're so busy on the day to day that it's not so easy to kind of step aside and look at you know, prognosticate about what's happening next, especially in this market. There's a lot of challenge, but there's a lot of opportunity for both of you. What do you think is the biggest threat to the industry right now and what do you think is the best kind of an untapped opportunity?

Mike Carragher:
You know, Jeff, as we look out there, there, you know, the, the pace of change as always has continued to increase and it just continues at an ever increasing pace. And I think one of the things that is influencing that pace of change and the array of possible on the horizon is the advancement of technologies, which is exponentially increasing in its pace. And we at the Institute are working hard to think about how to help make that understandable and how to kind of bring that within the grasp of our member firms. So that we can help shape the the opportunities that come out of these, you know, emerging and, and developing technologies as really additional tools to help us solve our client's challenges. The broad array of things from you know, climate change and the need for resiliency and how that plays into sustainability and all those things, you know, the ability to understand them and to address them in a way that helps improve, you know, society and all the way down to people's communities and their daily lives are aided by our ability to embrace and understand how to use these technologies to solve those problems in more thoughtful and creative ways that that really intertwine with a successful, sustainable environment.

John Carrato:
And I would just add that I think Mike said it very well that, you know, you can look at these as threats or you can look at them as opportunities and we believe part of our mission as the Institute is to help the industry turn threats into opportunities.

Host:
Absolutely. And I think there's on the other side of the world where you're trying to talk about both the changing nature of the marketplace, the, the threats that we all experience in, in climate change disruptive weather patterns or the need for resiliency. These are all things that are part of that larger national conversation. And the best way to try to get a handle on exactly these larger issues is by putting numbers behind them. And you're able to really tell a story and you're able to demonstrate that essential value if you're to actually put numbers behind the statements that you're making from a media standpoint. Of course, you know, that's, that's the world I come in and it's, it's, it's very important to be able to talk to a reporter or talk to a member of the media and be able to say, well, the engineering industry's impact is x and actually back up with a number or talk about different trends or requirements in, in, in what we're advocating for based off of actual statistics. And that's, that's really an important piece of the puzzle.

Mike Carragher:
It's interesting, Jeff, as you talk about that and you, you talk about being able to convert that into numbers, that again plays into the array of information that's generating the array of data that's generated and now able to be collected, sorted through and made sense of by some of these emerging technologies. Create the opportunity for us to take that all into account and to organize it, you know, synthesize it and with it come out with more definitive guidance, more definitive elements to convert those thoughts and ideas about how we address the issues across the horizon into, you know, real digestible elements with sound backing so that we can share that with, you know, society at large and with the leadership in Congress as well.

Host:
What do you think the industry does well as a whole in terms of advancing really our overall business interests? And where do you think we fall short?

John Carrato:
ACEC does a great job, excuse me, of advocating for the industry, whether it be for investment in infrastructure fighting onerous legislation, but unfortunately we're not, we don't always have a seat at the table. And we've seen that Linda and her team are working hard to change, that the Institute can help by being at the forefront of issues such as climate change and technology by producing research positions so ACEC is an intellectual thought leader. So we will, we will be needed at the table. And that's really our goal is we want people to want to sit at the table to implement those decisions.

Mike Carragher:
And we see that opportunity to, to be at the table is reinforced when you're providing not reactionary, you know, day to day responses. But when you're really helping to paint the picture of the future and how we navigate the uncertainty of the future, the more that the Institute can provide that type of guidance and insight to our people who are sitting at that table, I think the more influential the conversation that ACEC can bring will be recognized by the broader markets at large.

Host:
Absolutely. I mean you, you saw that immediately with the waves of surveys that are being put out by the Institute on business impacts related to coronavirus. Being able to come out and say with certainty. This is how the industry is reacting to the paycheck, protect the paycheck protection program. You know, this is how many firms have taken advantage of the programs as so many firms are, are looking to take advantage of the program. Being able to use that and, and take that not only to the press, which immediately sees numbers and wants to use them, but then also being able to take that to policymakers who were working on those programs. That gives them insight, which is of, of critical need and importance. And if you develop those numbers, people will seek you out. That's, that's a good example of research that's being done. Now I know that there are a lot of projects in the pipeline. What are some of the short term goals for the Institute? And, and long-term. What do you hope to accomplish with some, your research? What's in the pipeline right now?

John Carrato:
Well, we as you started the podcast, we didn't get the start leading up to you know, having an in person meeting at the annual conference, but our goal upfront is to really demonstrate the value that the Institute can bring to our members because that will help us stand up our fundraising efforts, which will allow us to reach our, our long-term goals by immediately what we're looking at is over the next three months, we will be hosting three webinars that look towards the future. The topics will be the buildings we live and work in and pack the technology on engineering and funding and the new normal. And these will be conversational style panels. They won't be presentations and they will be leading experts both in their, in our industry and industries that are aligned with us for the long-term. We'll be standing up research advisory council that will help ensure that we have a robust research agenda for the long-term. And we're currently in talks with multiple organizations about teaming to do research.

Mike Carragher:
So right now, Jeff, we're, we're starting out, you know, again, we're starting to walk before we can run and, but already we're partnering with FMI on an ownership transfer and management succession survey. The results can be found on our website that was recently completed and shared and it's generated some good conversation in our industry from that. We've also just launched a study kind of a new updated, refreshed look at quality-based selection and you know, that result in kind of a really state-of-the-art report and brings advances that discussion, which has been ongoing for quite a while, but I think gives it a little more depth and currentness and we'll also be looking to provide that to our member organizations is they use that in each state to bring that into the conversation necessarily each of our States. We're also intending to fund study on kind of, again, a new refresh look at what is really the impacts of design build delivery across our industry on the quality of the built project, the treatment of all the members of the design build team and how that works out for each of them. And what's important to know and what is important that legislatures should understand before they go down the path of design, build delivery and also an economic impact of engineering in the United States. We see that, again, getting to your point of trying to put some numbers to categories and to be able to convey the impact and kind of a multiplier impact of the work that, that we as engineers do as it contributes to the overall economy. You know, as we look out on the horizon, we've been developing a longer list that we help to, to work and to refine with a research advisory council that we're looking to work and put that together. But some of the items out there in the horizon, we've touched on today, you know, elements of climate change and resiliency in engineering sustainability the impact of rapid technology change on the engineering industry and what that means for us, the opportunities it opens.

Mike Carragher:
And I mean, even if you think of how that plays out with the additional types of expertise that we need to, to bring it into our organizations and how to meld those elements together. We're also looking at you know, a broader perspective around innovation and how do we really encourage and create the environments of innovation within, you know, our engineering firms now and moving forward as things continue to proliferate. We hope to be able to look at a broad array of viable options for infrastructure funding is something that has perplexed and challenged society at large for years and the case only grows in its importance. We're also have a topic looking at women, minorities and the case for inclusion, equity and diversity in the engineering industry. So as you can see, there's kind of a broad array of things that we're looking at and we're hoping to get input and guidance from a kind of wide casted research council to help us narrow those downs and prioritize the projects that we undertake.

Host:
Yeah. Each, each and every one of those is a critical area of focus from diversity to innovation technology. It's all really rich ground to mine for not just a good numbers, but then also just that thought leadership. And I've seen some of the details on those, on those round tables. And I gotta tell you it's, heavy hitters. I mean, the people who are, are lining up for, are participating in these roundtables are, are leaders in their field - are recognized names. And, and one of the things that's been said about thought leadership is, is it's not just getting information out there, but it's also being able to convene thought leaders and leading voices in the world to sit down and, and be the organizer to bring these people together to start talking about these issues. And it really does look like the Institute is on a solid firm footing. One of the questions I do have is, is kind of tied into that last point, which is getting involved in the Institute. There's a lot of work that has to be done. And how can ACEC members, how can members of the engineering industry get involved to help the Institute with its mission?

John Carrato:
Well, as you know, we're, we're still standing up the Institute, but we would really appreciate any members that have ideas for research to pass those along to us. And we talked about the research advisory council. If anybody's interested in being a member, we would appreciate them reaching out to Daphne Bryant. It's not an open council but we will certainly consider anyone that expresses an interest. And finally we would greatly appreciate any level of contribution. Members are willing to make the support the Institute. Charitable contributions will determine how much research we can perform going forward. And we're just starting to ramp up our fundraising institutes. But it's essential that we have a wide network of supporters in order to accomplish our goals as an Institute.

Mike Carragher:
Yeah. That support is going to be critical. And I think when you look at, you know, our, our member firms and their focus and their, their mission statements of what they're trying to do and not just create a successful company but really have a strong impact on the future, I think those things weave together. And this is an opportunity to kind of direct, you know, financial support into the research and study of elements that are going to help broaden the perspective of our industry, of how to, you know, provide a, you know, a safe and sustainable future in the built environment. And that element of understanding that this really, it comes down to - Jeff, you have made the point about being able to convey a numbers and that's important, you know, but everything we do in our industry results in the impact on humanity and the built environment and our ability to kind of not only have the numbers, but to convey the stories down to the human and personal level of how it helps improve the quality of life on this. Something that's very important to us. And as we look to people to be on the, the research advisory council, bring that broad array of perspectives will be, will be important to us and it's also going to be important on our storytelling as we go forward to, to share our perspectives.

Host:
Absolutely. Well for those who want to get involved immediately I encourage everyone to take a look at the institutes website. It's ACEC Research Institute, all one word, dot org. They also have links to their social channels. They're on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Follow them because all the research that they're putting out will be posted to those channels. But then also on the, on the website, you go over there right now and you'll see the first few waves of that coronavirus impact survey as well as the FMI ownership transfer management succession survey. It's all there for you to take a look at, download and and review. John and Mike, thank you very much for taking the time today. On a, I guess a pre-holiday Thursday. We're all working from home so the holidays kind of blur. I keep forgetting that it was Memorial Day weekend coming up. But for both of you stay, stay healthy, stay safe and I really want to have you on back on the show as the Institute really gets into full swing. Maybe during those round tables we can kind of reconvene and talk about some of the topics that were discussed and of course with your next big survey going out. We definitely want to have you back on the show.

John Carrato:
Thank you very much Jeff. We're really excited about the potential of the Institute. Greatly appreciate the opportunity to talk about it.

Mike Carragher:
Yeah, thanks Jeff. This has been a great conversation. I appreciate the opportunity and you know, just to our listeners you know, John and I are always looking for good and supportive people throughout our industry. So we look forward to continuing the conversation.

Host:
Absolutely. So again, go to www.acecresearchinstitute.org and check out the research that's already been posted. And again, this has been Engineering Influence, a podcast from the American Council of Engineering Companies. We'll see you on the next episode.

 

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