A couple weeks ago, I attended a meeting with our local business association to hear and participate in a discussion about tax increment financing districts (TIFs). Our TIF attorney made a comment at the meeting something to the effect that “infrastructure is not sexy.” At the time, I interjected my disagreement with his assessment; everyone laughed, and I really didn’t think much more about it until later.
But the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit that the general public would probably agree with our TIF attorney. Why is that? There was a time when people were impressed by the achievements of engineers and public works employees. Our contributions to bettering the lives of people were welcomed and appreciated. Now what we achieve seems to be taken for granted, dismissed, ignored, or worse yet criticized. Only within the confines of our own professional groups are these achievements awarded.
But most of us are not working each day trying to win an award or mass recognition for our designs or projects. So why should this change in attitude concern the average public works person?
The critical issue here is that this change in attitude seems to be leading to a complete dismissal of our profession as one that requires creativity in order to deliver a quality product. I realize that even amongst ourselves this may not be apparent because we really do not talk about ourselves or our profession as one that relies on creativity. But each day we face problems that rarely have obvious solutions, and the way we solve them is to tap into our creative abilities to assess situations, many times “think outside of the box,” and then derive the most efficient, acceptable, and cost effective solution that works. And we do this without even thinking about how we do it.
So if we are automatically doing this, why should we be worried about how others view us and our work? Because at one time, when the general public was still awed by our achievements, we were left alone to create, solve problems, and produce. As the world has progressed, this is no longer the case – the companies and agencies for which we work have made changes to staffing and policies that are now stifling the creativity on which we rely.
We now have supervisors who are not trained in our field and don’t understand the thought processes and work environments we need in order to achieve success. With fewer employees in our divisions and groups, we are pushed to achieve more in a shorter amount of time. Politicians often do not heed advice from professionals and experts in a certain field which leads to an imposition of policies and regulations that simply do not work.
I suppose there may still be a lucky few who have not had to experience these types of changes, but from what I can see and from the conversations I have with other professionals, there does not seem to be many of the lucky ones. Instead I hear of engineers who are having to “clock in and out” in a manner similar to that of a factory worker because some accountant for some government agency has decided that the employee might spend an extra 5 minutes or so at lunch.
For myself, I don’t have that problem, but I do have coworkers who are not in the public works department who simply cannot comprehend why I would need to work uninterrupted on anything. And they are unrelenting in their criticism should I try to just shut the door or not answer the phone for any time period at all.
So what is the result of these changes? I see and hear about designs and projects that no longer are the best or most efficient or even well thought out. This obviously leads to, at the least, increased construction costs and a waste of resources, and, at the worst, failures and a potential for loss of lives.
I agree that we as a nation need to invest more in infrastructure, and I think the average citizen would agree, but more importantly, should this funding one day arrive, we need to spend it wisely by coming up with the best designs. And this is only going to happen if we invest in our own creativity despite the obstacles trying to diminish this vital ability.
Next post – Finding your creativity.