Editor’s note: Vermont By Degrees is a series of weekly columns written by representatives of colleges and universities from around the state about the challenges facing higher education at this time.

Nov. 5 happened to be National Doughnut Day, according to the National Day Calendar website. They, however, disclose that they continue to research, “the origins of this doughnut holiday.” Perhaps more grounded in history is the founding of the American Society of Civil Engineers on this same day.

The society was established in 1852, making 2019 its 167th anniversary. They observe Nov. 5 as a celebration of civil engineering.

While there is merit in celebrating the civil engineering profession, the status of the country’s infrastructure is not worth celebrating. Every four years, the ASCE publishes a “Report Card” to illustrate the physical condition and performance of America’s infrastructure — the bridges, roads, school facilities, water quality, power grid, transit components and more that affect the productivity of every industry in the country.

Their most recent Report Card, published in 2017, gave America’s infrastructure a D+ overall. In Vermont, the Agency of Transportation’s 2019 Fact Book and Annual Report notes a number of accomplishments, like the compliance of all bridges in the state with national standards, a fact not realized since 2011, and increases in public transportation routes.

They inspected 141 interstate culverts determined to be at high risk, a project Vermont Tech Civil & Environmental Engineering Technology students helped perform. The long-range Transportation Plan cites water-quality and extreme weather as significant challenges for Vermont’s infrastructure future.

Nationally and in Vermont, jobs for civil engineers and civil engineering technicians are projected to grow. According to labor data, regional employers posted 172% more openings for associate-level civil and environmental engineering technology professionals in June 2019 than in September 2016. That is compared to an only 101% increase in employer demand for associate-level professionals across all occupations.

These careers offer stability and affect our environment and economic viability, so why, as a state, are we struggling to attract people to fill the available jobs? Like several industries across Vermont, workforce shortages are an issue.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation came to Vermont Tech in 2017 with a problem. They described their workforce pipeline as a “silver tsunami,” anticipating significant shortfalls due to high rates of retirement among experienced personnel.

Before that knowledgeable staff left, VTrans wanted to increase their recruitment efforts so that new personnel could work with seasoned employees to create OTJ training opportunities and preserve institutional memory. While VTrans is seeking to fill positions across the spectrum of occupations from business to pilot to diesel technicians, a particularly urgent need is among civil engineers.

Vermont Tech and VTrans developed the “Build Vermont Pathways” employee partnership to get more Vermonters into higher education and into the multitude of positions available at a well-respected Vermont employer. Through Build Vermont Pathways, students can get a two-year degree with a paid summer internship that, in most cases, has led directly to a career that serves the state and local communities.

There are already many Vermont Tech graduates working at VTrans, with more career opportunities still available to fill.

Civil engineering as a profession is diverse. Civil engineers work in aviation, ground transportation, waste and water treatment, energy production, public land maintenance, and so much more. The real-world challenges the profession affects include water quality, resilient energy, and building to withstand the increasing severity of extreme weather events.

It turns out civil engineering is a helping profession, and one that needs help to grow in order to maintain the infrastructure and economic vitality of Vermont.

Amanda Chaulk is director of communications and marketing at Vermont Tech. You can read previous contributions to Vermont By Degrees under the Opinion tab at the websites of The Times Argus or Rutland Herald.

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