Am I Doing This Right…Exploring Professional Organizations

By Alexis Eades

A little while ago, I investigated how Continuing Education can benefit a young professional. But I was still looking for more that I could do to grow professionally. Almost as if he was reading my mind, Robert McAvoy, Assistant Project Manager in Transportation/NJ, approached me and wanted to talk about his experience joining a professional organization. This got me really excited, so I decided to reach out to a couple other people who definitely have experience in this.

But first, who is Robert and what’s his experience been like? He’s actually become very involved in several professional organizations. He explained, “I started with a position on the Metropolitan Section of ITE which is focused on the NY/NJ Metropolitan Section. Then, I joined a committee on the Northeastern District. In addition to those, I now serve in an Executive Council role on the Traffic Engineering Council, which is national. I’ve recently taken the lead writing an informational report as part of an offset effort of the committee.”

He continued, “Joining a professional society provides the catalyst to become a more well-rounded professional. That’s not something you can always achieve just doing your day job at the office.”

Developing New Skills as a Young Professional

Robert said, “Through ITE, I’ve developed my public speaking skills, which once upon a time were nonexistent, by giving presentations. I gave a presentation on an informational report at a TRB meeting in Washington DC. It was an invaluable opportunity. I had to prepare my presentation and leave my comfort zone by presenting to new individuals, not just coworkers I was already comfortable with.  Without this organization, I never would have had this opportunity.”

“I’ve also further developed my writing skills through my professional society.  There are many opportunities to write papers, news articles, monthly newsletter blurbs, etc.  For example, I joined a committee tasked with writing an Informational Report. This inevitably improved my writing skills overall, including at work.”

He explained that professional organizations also enable you to take risks and jump head-first into managerial roles, without the pressure of your decisions directly affecting your professional work and revenue targets. He emphasized that they are a safe place to learn leadership skills. “In my opinion, all of these skills are what separates a knowledgeable engineer from a great engineer. They make you well-rounded.” That’s a really good point, and one I wouldn’t have thought about before. I could see this being especially helpful for engineers.

I wondered what professional organizations are available for operational people in the A/E industry too. So, I approached two of the most knowledgeable people that I know, who I suspected might be involved in organizations that might apply more directly to me.

Professional Organizations: A Tool to Learn

Allison Colantuoni, Director of our Human Resources Department, who has been here for over 22 years and is also a member of the Executive Team, is indeed a part of several professional organizations. She noted that professional organizations offer resources to complete HR professional certifications. Also, that attending their activities can provide continuing education credits. This seems especially important for a younger employee to note.

She participates in the Society for Human Resource Management, a national organization that she joined at the start of her career. She said she maintains her membership because it is an excellent resource for information. Being a national organization, there are no regular face-to-face meetings; instead, it offers the latest news on the industry. As a member, she has access to job descriptions and tool kits, like if you need help with how to approach a new initiative, for example.

Where You Can Learn Exactly What You Need

Michele Ouimet, our Director of Marketing who is also a Principal Associate of the firm, had a similar experience. She noted the importance of connecting with other marketers in the A/E/C industry, especially when you’re leading a department. Michele is very involved in the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). SMPS is a national group, and the pinnacle for marketers in the A/E/C industries. They have an extensive education arm that offers a certification opportunity which she has earned.  As a Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM), Michele is distinctively qualified for her position.

She explained how marketing for services in the A/E/C industry is its own skill with unique requirements and challenges. If our job in marketing is to convey the value of our company’s services to our clients and communities in client-centric ways, that can only be done with deep industry knowledge and insight.

When I first joined as an intern, I had to spend a lot of time learning everything about the A/E/C industry. It’s cool to me that I have to know about BIM modeling, ROW asset management, how and why we perform SUE. ..But also what is going on in towns and communities, who our competitors are, and how we can best represent our services and professionals to potential clients. Because after all, you could be the greatest genius who has the best ideas, but all that means nothing if you don’t know how to communicate your ideas (or work, or whatever) to the people whom it is important understand your value. It’s great that SMPS provides resources and tools to enable A/E/C marketers to achieve their very specific educational needs.

Learning From Peers

Allison also participates in an informal group called the HR Leadership Connection that is industry- specific to engineering firms. She said, “They get it. Especially through COVID, those groups were great. We now have an email group where we ask each other questions and advice. The members are our competitors, so we don’t share a lot of details or any sensitive information. But, there’s a lot that we can learn from each other regardless.”

Comparing details with other companies can be especially helpful. Colliers Engineering & Design has over 1,200 employees and sharing certain information with other companies of the same size can really be a boost.

Michele also runs a User Group for Cosential, our CRM application. While not an official organization, she connects with professionals from various companies to discuss the platform that they all use.

“The purpose of the group is to work out best practices and share experiences,” explained Michele. “It’s been very worthwhile.” Since not just anyone has the extensive knowledge necessary to seamlessly facilitate the transition of a firm to a new CRM system, I personally think this is a really smart idea. Like Allison had said, your problems are likely comparable.

Professional Organizations: A Tool to Connect

Although Michele attends the SMPS national conferences, she also attends local events with the NYC and Philadelphia chapters. They offer great networking opportunities close to home.

Allison is a part of a networking group as well. The Jersey Shore Association for Human Resources is a local chapter which has monthly meetings Allison has attended for years. This is a great place for meeting other people in the industry.

“When you meet a challenge, it may be new to you but you’re typically not the first one to face it.” She explained, “This group is very helpful for talking through challenges, rules, laws, and regulations that come out. While this local organization is mostly about networking, it also offers speaking presentations, so you learn from them too.”

Not only do you learn from the people with whom you network, they can sometimes become long-time contacts for your job as well. Robert explained, “Through ITE, I’ve been able to network in-person and virtually with many individuals who I’ve later crossed paths with on projects throughout the Tri-state area. The friendships I developed in ITE became strong professional contacts on projects. I found relationships made outside working hours developed much easier and made the transition to working with the same people on projects seamless.”

Bottom Line

Engineer? In operations? Just starting out? Leading a department? Or something in between? The bottom line seems to be that professional organizations are a good idea for everyone.  We all can benefit from expanding our skills, connecting with people in similar roles, and learning from formal and informal resources, after all.

I officially dare you to Google what professional organizations exist in your field! And I’ll catch you the next time I ask, “Am I Doing This Right?”

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