October 28, 2020

Over the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of helping to lead a new leadership program for the newest members of the Transportation team in Middle and East Tennessee. We’re calling it our Graduate Training Program. Beginning in February, we’ve been holding virtual monthly sessions with a group of 12 engineers from our Nashville and Knoxville offices. The program is designed for recent graduates with less than four years of experience. It’s part of our commitment to bring together our youngest staff members to help them grow, network and learn about our industry even in the midst of a global pandemic.

Once a month over an 18-month period, we expose our newest team members to everything they need to know about the industry, the business of consulting, how to better serve their communities and how to become better leaders. For example, in our March session Middle Tennessee Area Transportation Leader Andy Lucyshyn led a group discussion much like you would with a book club about “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age,” an adaption of Dale Carnegie’s perceptions for the digital age. We dug into topics like how to communicate with diplomacy, capitalize on a solid network, be a more effective leader and optimize the power of digital tools.

In addition, I work with our department leaders and project managers to identify opportunities for participants to work on assignments in each of our technical areas such as roadway design, bridge design, transportation planning, traffic engineering, intelligent transportation systems, utility design, and construction engineering and inspection. The assignments can range from short-term designs and studies to several months in the field as an inspector. This technical work helps them understand how the different elements of project lifecycle fit together, and it helps them become more well-rounded technical engineers. Since public speaking is a much needed skill in our business, participants are also asked to join Toastmasters and attend at least one meeting per month (on hold due to COVID-19).

“The Graduate Training Program has really been beneficial for my career development,” said Namri Vera, a member of the initial class. “So far, the program has expanded my knowledge on topics such as the various disciplines within transportation, project management, communications and community engagement. I think a multidisciplinary approach to training, like this program, is essential to young engineers as it forms a good foundation for a successful career.”

This summer, we covered community engagement and strategies for making a positive impact in the communities we serve, led by longtime firm leader and Senior Vice President of Human Resources Mickey Sullivan. Afterward, we asked our trainees to take on projects in the local community. Our Middle Tennessee area team just spent a day helping to clean up at Radnor Lake State Park in Nashville. And our Knoxville-area team is planning to adopt a stream in their local community this fall.

“As a new Gresham Smith employee, the new graduate program has been a welcomed addition to the on boarding process,” said Sean-Michael Tibbs, another program participant. “The new graduate program provides opportunities to be engaged with other young people within the company as well as many ways to volunteer and get involved with in the community.”

Participants from the Nashville office during their Radnor Lake State Park clean-up day.

“What I like best about the graduate training program is getting a common bonding experience with my peers,” said Ruth Steele, one of the program participants. “We are all in different groups, working on different types of projects, but the Graduate Training Program allows us to come together to learn from experienced engineers and share our own experiences. I feel more comfortable collaborating with both my peers and the engineers that have presented to us because I’m getting to know them and what they do better.”

During the final few months of our first class, we plan to cover business development with a mock proposal activity as well as public engagement, strategic problem solving and more technical topics like the basics of traffic studies and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires consultants to consider the environmental impact of our work. We’ll wrap things up with a “graduation” lunch to acknowledge their achievements in the program.

So far we’re pleased with our pilot of this program, and there are plans to roll it out to the rest of the states within our Transportation market next year. Our hope is that this new program also allows our new staff to feel more connected and spend time getting to know each other as well as our senior leadership. It’s part of Gresham Smith’s commitment to be a great place to work, where everyone feels welcome and that they’re being given the opportunity to grow in their field and as a person.