Engineer demand leads to job vacancies
Highway position remains open as department merger is considered

By ALEX ZANK - Daily News

Sept. 23, 2015

Civil engineers are in high demand — so much so that local governments looking to fill engineering positions, including in Washington County, could run into trouble finding candidates.

This has some officials, including County Board Supervisor and Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Goetz, worried.

The Highway Department’s assistant highway commissioner, for the last few months, has been filled through contracted work. The contractor works one full day a week, which is a fraction of what’s typically required for the full-time role.

It isn’t just high demand for engineers that is preventing the county from hiring someone. County Administrator Josh Schoemann said they have not hired a new assistant highway commissioner because the county is currently weighing the possibility of combining the Planning and Parks and Highway departments.

It wouldn’t make sense to hire someone to potentially have that position changed soon after as the result of a department merger, he said.

Interim Highway Commissioner Scott Schmidt said it makes sense to look into merging departments at this time, given the vacancies at the commissioner and assistant commissioner roles. He said it’s a possibility he would take on the commissioner role fulltime.

Schoemann said the salary the county offers for assistant highway commissioner “absolutely” factors into the the difficulties of finding someone to fill that role.

Schmidt said the private sector and Wisconsin Department of Transportation take engineers away from the county as potential hires. He said the county’s offered salary and compensation is not as competitive in comparison.

Christina Curras, chairwoman of the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Wisconsin- Platteville, said from what she understands the DOT hired a lot of engineers in the 1960s.

Now that those workers are starting to retire, the DOT is in mass hiring mode once again.

About six months ago, the Transportation Committee tried to upgrade the wages offered to the position, but was ultimately shot down in the Finance Committee.

County Board Supervisor and Transportation Committee member Ron Naab supported the pay bump for the assistant highway commissioner.

Curras said graduating students at UW-Platteville with a degree in civil engineering are making more than $50,000 a year on average.

Naab said he has heard of engineers upon graduating being able to ask for more than $60,000 a year.

“I look at that and go, ‘Wow,’” he said. “Everyone in the engineering world tells me there’s a demand for every engineering specialty.”

Civil engineers in Wisconsin average a wage of about $75,000 annually, according to information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

West Bend had a recent job posting for an assistant city engineer in its Engineering Division.

City Administrator T.J. Justice said they received three applicants. According to the job posting, the city sought someone with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with three to five years experience.

The number of applications the city receives for postings such as this depend on timing, nature of the job and what is out there in the job market, he said.

“In my conversations with the private sector, (finding and hiring) engineers has been a challenge,” he said.

As far as merging the Planning and Parks and Highway departments, Schoemann hopes to have a decision made by October.

Reach reporter Alex Zank at