Sometimes I try to be part of the trendsetter crowd, while other times I like being part of the group that lags behind what everyone else is doing.

And sometimes I even enjoy sitting on the sidelines - so I can provide you with a more objective perspective on the issue at hand. That’s where I write from this month about two hot topics.

Salaries and Structures: Two Types of Green Engineering.

Joyce Gioia, a strategic business futurist, wrote in a recent ”Herman Trend Alert” that engineering offers the highest starting salary in this economy. Her insight is based on the2009 Salary Surveyfrom the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). The survey shows that four of the five highest starting salaries went to occupations involving engineering.

According to Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, ”Even in a tight job market, there are simply more opportunities requiring an engineering degree than graduates available to fill those positions. That drives salaries up.”

The Digest of Education Statistics 2008from the National Center for Education Statistics confirms the lack of students graduating with engineering degrees. This report says that more than 1,524,000 bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 2007 (the latest data available), but only a single-digit percentage of them were engineering degrees.

However, that’s not the case at the University at Buffalo (NY). There, a new $61 million engineering school is being built to serve its increasing number of engineering students. Due to be completed in 2011, the facility will measure 130,000 square feet and feature low-flow urinals, dual-flush water closets and a green roof that will absorb storm water. Equally important, the building is set to earn a gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Impact of Stimulus Money.

Back on Feb. 17, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. ZwiegWhite, which provides business management services for A/E/C firms nationwide, has monitored the impact of the $787 billion ARRA on the engineering industry through both a seven-part “live interview” Webinar series and a120 Days Laterreport.

Various presenters noted that, to be eligible for the lion’s share of $308 billion in discretionary spending stimulus money, engineering firms were required to have contracts in place by mid-August. The presenters also said the firms that have benefited most were those that clearly showed they were “ready, willing and able” to design infrastructure projects that were local and already approved for construction.

According to120 Days Later, only about 14% of the stimulus package had been spent by August because bids on projects came in far lower than expected. This leaves a surplus of funds that states may use for projects initially deemed to be lower priority or less than "shovel ready."

Elaine Howley, editor of the report, believes "the desire to win these jobs is so great that more jobs will be made available."

This means ARRA still offers you many opportunities. So leave the sidelines, get into the game and become an industry trendsetter. I’ll be close behind you…