I was working as a project engineer in the HVAC construction industry for 5 years. Here is what I do as a project engineer.
As a project engineer, my main task is to execute installation work at the construction site. I need to finish the installation work at the site within the time frame given by the client. At the same time, I need to ensure good quality work to prevent reworks that can delay the completion time and increase the cost of the project.
The job descriptions of a project engineer are listed on job search websites such as Jobstreet, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. However, these job descriptions often are too general.
Project Engineer Duties and Responsibilities
As a project engineer, I spent a large portion of my working hours at the construction site. The projects that I worked on are mostly high-rise residential buildings. I have to deal with the following tasks throughout the project which can last up to 3 years or more.
1. Submit and get drawings & documents approved
As a project engineer, I need to prepare and submit as many as 30 pages of A0-sized shop drawings for one project. Although my company has drafters to help ease the process, I still draw most of the drawings using AutoCAD 2D, especially for the hard part that requires technical knowledge and site observation.
As for the drafters, they are very good at drawing scale, title block, drawing number, and printing work.
I also need to submit both materials and method statements for approval where the former is for the material used and the latter is for the method of installation in the project. These submissions are usually split into about 10 to 15 documents with an average of about 15-20 pages each.
All these drawings and documents need to be approved prior to start work at the site. Without approval, works can be rejected by the client at our own cost. However, the approval of these drawings and documents can be obtained progressively based on the site’s progress.
2. Schedule and prioritize installation works
After the drawings and documents are approved, I need to decide which place to start the installation work first and when do I need to start the work as we don’t have unlimited resources and we have a deadline to follow.
Hence, I need to schedule and prioritize installation works.
In order to be aligned with the main progress of the site, I need to do multiple discussions and coordination with various parties to ensure smooth execution of the installation work.
Otherwise, a portion of our installation works may obstruct other people and we need to redo at our own cost.
3. Make sure the system is installed correctly
While our workers are carrying out the installation work, I need to make sure that they install it correctly. Thus, I need to study and understand what is the proper installation. This requires me to speak with colleagues, managers, specialists, and technicians.
Furthermore, for some of the installation work, I had to refer to the established engineering standard such as from the ASHRAE and SMACNA in order to ensure that our installation work is properly done as per the acceptable standards.
4. Clear site obstructions for work to progress
During the installation work, our team feedback to me with obstructions that are hindering their progress. Thus, it is my job to clear the obstructions for them to proceed with the work and avoid further delay.
To do so, I need to write request forms to explain what are the obstruction and what I’m requesting the relevant parties to assist me to clear the obstruction. Sometimes, I need to submit a proposal with sketch drawings and photos when an alteration of design is needed due to site conditions.
5. Get installed works inspected and approved
After our team completed the installation work, I need to send in a request to the client so that they can come and inspect and approve our work. Only with the approval of the client, our installation work is considered done.
The installation work that requires inspection and approval can be separated into small parts. For instance, we need approval on the installation of the indoor unit of the air conditioner and the copper pipe separately. Then, after both installations are approved only we are allowed to connect them.
6. Submit and get the Client’s approval on progress claims
Every month I need to prepare, submit and get approval from the client on our progress claims. This is where we get the payment from the client on what we have installed and approved so far.
Typically, I’ll need to submit my intended claim amount first. Then, I’ll do a site inspection with the client to verify the claim and the client will assess and approve it.
7. Document All Correspondences
For all my work mentioned above, I need to document them. This includes saving them as soft copies in a dedicated folder, naming them appropriately, and organize them accordingly. Moreover, some documents are stored as hard copies in files and folders. I usually keep all the hard copies in my cabinet.
The reason we need to document as much as possible is not only for tracking but also for legal purposes. There is a lot of things can delay our progress and often it is not our fault. Thus, when it is necessary, we need to present the records in order to justify our delays.
Project Engineer Challenges
I find it is very challenging being a project engineer. Some of the skills I learn the hard way, particularly the following.
I was not a good communicator when I first started working as a project engineer. I thought I was a good communicator but I was wrong.
Communication is about delivering a message as intended. A good communicator speaks confidently, clearly, and directly so that the other side receives the message as per the speaker’s intended.
In another word, people must understand what you are trying to say without having to clarify with you multiple times.
I’m an introvert. I was not good at speaking with strangers and public speaking is a nightmare to me. But, as a project engineer, I need to be uncomfortable and force myself to speak with people in order to get things done as effectively as possible.
On top of that, rising up and speaking during meetings with high authority people is one of the hardest things to do as an introvert.
Nevertheless, I sailed through this challenge and I find that strangers are just human like me. They are kind, caring, and easy to speak with. Even so, as an introvert, I still prefer not to speak with people that I don’t know.
Some people, including me, are very easy to stop doing something halfway. We quickly lose interest and the determination to make it to the end. However, I need to overcome this habit if I want to be a good project engineer.
As mentioned above, there will be many obstructions during the installation works. This means that the installation work at a particular area needs to stop until the obstructions are cleared. It is extremely easy and tempted to just forget about it.
However, it is essential to follow up on clearing of obstructions and rearrange the workers back to complete the work so that the work progresses and stays on schedule.
I hate to admit it but Murphy’s Law is so true. Whenever I thought of something can’t go wrong, it went wrong at the most critical time.
Thus, I try to reduce procrastination as much as possible. Also, I’ve learned to solve things as fast as possible so that they don’t pile up.
When you first started out as a project engineer, don’t let your ego slow you down. At the construction site, there are many things you need to learn. Don’t be a fool thinking that those lower rank workers know nothing.
In fact, they are the one who is doing the work. Respect them and learn humbly from them.
It’s not like I have a huge ego but it’s big enough that I need to reduce it in order to work effectively. I learned to learn from almost everyone on the site including the foreign workers.
I think some of them are really good at what they are doing and I learn a lot from them.
Be prepared to be humble and throw your ego away as a project engineer. I have to be honest, some people may humiliate you at first, especially if you are a fresh graduate.
But, if you suck it up, you’ll see fruitful growth in yourself.
Why Become a Project Engineer?
If you ask me to do I like being a project engineer, my answer will be yeah, it’s cool to be a project engineer. I never regret choosing to work as a project engineer.
Sometimes, I’m thinking that I grow faster because I was working as a project engineer instead of others.
You’ll be respected
As a project engineer, you are most likely not trusted in the beginning. Most of the people at the construction site have at least a few years of experience, some have over 10 years of experience.
You’ll need to earn their respect, especially from people that are really good and have a higher authority. But, you first need to respect them.
Nevertheless, once you got 2 to 3 years of experience, you are most likely a senior project engineer. By then, you are an experienced engineer who walks the talk and always gets the thing done. Who will not respect such a person?
You’ll developed a positive mindset
It is hard not to develop a positive mindset working as a project engineer. If you sailed through a year or two at the construction site, you probably encounter hundreds of problems and you need to solve every single one of them.
Project engineers generally have a positive mindset. Every problem that comes to us, we always thinking on the bright side first. The best self-persuasion technique I developed for myself is: “if my decision is wrong this time, the worst-case scenario is I lose this job only”.
I’ve grind through so many problems by asking myself what are the worse case scenarios. Many people actually repeatedly worrying that they’ve made a wrong decision but if the worse case scenario is just losing a job, it’s not that bad isn’t? It’s not the end of the world.
You’ll gain more stamina
At the construction site, you’ll need to conduct a lot of site walks. Imagine walking around a large shopping mall before it is completed. It’s the same footprint. We often walk for hours while discussing our observations.
One time, I urgently need to arrange testing work on the 40th floor. Unfortunately, the lift was not working at the time. I made a decision to take the stairs up 40 floors. It took me about 45 minutes but I get trained.
This kind of training opportunity can be found anywhere on the construction site. The more senior people working in the construction site always said if you can do site walk for long hours, you are a good project engineer. Not implying anything but, you’ll get the point.
Job satisfaction, fulfilment and achievement
To me, working as a project engineer gives me job satisfaction every time I completed a section of the work in a project. Imagine you are renovating your bedroom, after it is completed, it feels great, isn’t it?
You start from scratch and slowly install more and more things. You watch it progressing every day. Sometimes, you’ll make decisions on it and you have no idea if it is going to work. Then, when completed, you do the testing and it works like magic. Maximum satisfaction guaranteed!
Overall, I think being a project engineer can get more job satisfaction, the sense of fulfilment and achievement.
You’ll fear nothing (almost)
Being a project engineer, I have to force myself to speak with strangers even though I’m an introvert. I also learnt to reject others when it’s wrong. I need to speak confidently and authoritatively to foreign workers when they don’t follow orders. I had to send multiple reminder letters to high authority people when they left my requests unattended.
All these are scary things to do at first. But, if there is no fear, there is no courage. I too, hesitated to do the right things when I first started out because I worry that they’ll revenge on me. Then, it has proven me wrong and I’ve learned not to be hesitant anymore.
Advices for New Project Engineers
- Always be punctual – Everyone working on the construction site is very busy. Respect their time. Don’t be late on even the smallest meeting sessions. Always be prepared for all meetings and discussions. Your journey will be much smoother. Trust me, I learned it the hard way.
- Responsible for your words – Every mistake made on the construction site is very costly to undo. Make sure you know what you are telling other people and be ready to take all responsibility if things go wrong.
- Be proactive – Nobody is going to watch your back all the time at the construction site. Be proactive and take initiative to discuss with other people in order to resolve your obstructions.
Working as a project engineer at the construction site is very different from other jobs. Most of the time, you don’t have a boss watching your every action. Most of the stress, pressure, and motivation is coming from the people at the construction site.
If I would say, project engineer, is a very challenging job. However, it can shape you in a good way for the rest of your life.
Although it seems like a project engineer has a lot of ground to cover, it all points to a single goal which is to complete a project on schedule. Everything a project engineer does has a purpose. If you are ready to take up this challenge, I welcome you to the construction industry.
This article was originally published on aircondlounge.com. Actions will be taken for unauthorised republication of this article.
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