Business trips were something I rarely went on before coming to BNP Media and pme. In my previous life as a sports reporter for a variety of Wisconsin newspapers, I went to the same couple schools for games or the same state tournaments year after year.

These provided great opportunities to tell the story of the young prep athlete who won — or sometimes lost — the big game, but in the end I did not learn much more than I knew going into the event.

So you can imagine what a treat it was to visit Maitland, Fla., and spend the day with Eric Knauth, P.E. The 36-year-old is the head of the plumbing department for worldwide firm exp (formerly Trow Global) and is a wealth of information for this curious mind. Knauth also is a worthy recipient of pme’s 2016 Plumbing Engineer of the Year award. (Read here for a profile on Knauth).

Not too long into our interview over lunch at Sam Snead’s Tavern, Knauth clued me in on an industry secret I had not discovered yet — many universities that offer an engineering degree program do not specifically teach the plumbing design discipline. Knauth adds the schools and the students tend to focus on mechanical or architectural engineering — a seemingly more glamourous occupation.

That floored me. Even during my time in college I had some specific classes that focused on sports journalism. Knauth tells me when interns come in for a job interview they do not know they could have a great career in plumbing engineering.

“Many times when the plumbing side of the industry is brought up to mechanical grads or interns, the look on their face appears to indicate they may be getting their fingers dirty plumbing toilets instead of engineering,” he states.

These interviewees are fortunate that Knauth tells them how much more robust this industry can be. “I mention all the various systems that are lumped together, especially on the entertainment projects we work on, including pneumatics, hydraulics, pool and water ride filtration, and special effects systems that include water, mist, fog, smoke, fire and flame effects,” he says.

Knauth, a longtime ASPE member, says the organization is working hard with many U.S. colleges to get more plumbing engineering representation in curricula, but time is a pressing matter.

“We need people today and they are not here today,” he says. “In talking with other people here in the central Florida area looking to hire — there’s nobody to hire.”

The 2016-17 school year is underway, college football season is getting started and the energy of being back on campus is palpable. Trust me, this is time of year I miss college life the most.

It is time for your firm to put some boots on the ground at the local universities. Put up a booth at a career fair the school hosts. By simply putting the thought of plumbing engineering as a career path out there, you are helping the industry.

Welcome back to school!


This article was originally titled “Back to school” in the September 2016 print edition of PM Engineer.