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Creating opportunities at a progressive engineering firm

Positivity, team work, collaboration are key themes to the work at Sandman Structural Engineers.

Sandman SE.jpg
'The most important thing I have learned as a business owner is to treat people well,' says Kurt Sandman, owner of Sandman Structural Engineers. 'Our people are our greatest asset and without our people we cannot carry out our mission to serve others. Especially in this tight market for acquiring talent, it is paramount to develop people and invest in them.'
Image: Courtesy of Sandman Structural Engineers
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When Kurt Sandman decided to start his own business, he knew what he wanted from it: “I wanted to create an opportunity to provide excellent customer service and a high quality product for the engineering industry,” he said.

Enter Sandman Structural Engineers, which started in 2005 and today has four offices and 67 employees.

Over the course of the past 17 years, Sandman has noticed trends in his industry and said there are some things he has learned about being a business owner.

“The most important thing I have learned as a business owner is to treat people well,” he said. “Our people are our greatest asset and without our people we cannot carry out our mission to serve others. Especially in this tight market for acquiring talent, it is paramount to develop people and invest in them.”

Fostering that philosophy begins with the day-to-day operations of the company and its culture, which Sandman and his employees have set over the years and which remains an integral part of the business.

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At the end of the day, it’s about employee engagement, working as a focused team, and helping clients achieve their goals. In a word, it’s about professional satisfaction.

“The philosophy of our culture here is to develop and create an environment of positivity, team work, collaboration, and commitment to fully engage all employees to wholly contribute to and advance the team and company’s performance to satisfy our main purpose, which is to serve others and make our clients win,” Sandman said. “The relationships within our teams are very important and are built and strengthened with our many culture events over the course of the year to bond and become closer as a unit.”

Kurt Sandman
Kurt Sandman
Image: Courtesy of Sandman Structural Engineers

Sandman answered questions from Prairie Business about his company and some of the things he is noticing in the industry these days, as well as how he and his team meets some of the challenges presented today:

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you have seen or experienced in the industry since the company started? 

The most interesting thing I have experienced is the transition of the highly experienced veteran people in the industry. The largest generation of people was the baby boomer generation and most are retirement age or have already retired recently.

Covid also pushed a lot of people in this generation toward retirement because of the global impact the pandemic had. With so many experienced people retiring, there are less younger people entering the industry because there are so many more career options out there today than there was 50 years ago.

This transition will be a big challenge for our industry to overcome. This is why investing time into our young people is so critical to get them practicing as quickly as possible for their career advancement.

Are there project areas that seem to be most in-demand in the Dakotas and Minnesota at this time? Why those areas, do you think? 

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Housing and mixed use facilities (combination use of a building with a retail level and housing above), and warehouse facilities have been in high demand. I believe housing facilities are hot right now because the younger generations typically live in apartment style housing for longer before settling into a permanent home.

Newer up to date housing facilities with integrated technology and amenities are what appeal to the younger people. Warehousing has grown tremendously due to how product destruction happens in today’s retail and supply world.

In what ways has the pandemic impacted your industry, good or bad? 

Our industry was impacted in many ways. Mainly construction cost has risen to an all time high. This is a result of lack of workforce in the industry from engineering to the construction trades. Lack of resources has put a strain on how fast materials can be produced for construction which with a high demand and low supply has driven price increases.

Our industry proved it can work remotely. We already had remote team members prior to Covid so we already had experienced that, but the entire industry did it at the same time. It proved we can do it and it can be done successfully in most cases.

We are mostly back to the office now as we feel building our culture and relationships is very important. It’s also more difficult to provide proper mentorship and guidance to younger staff virtually so for them to get the best work experience and develop the way they can, in person is important in their most impressionable part of their careers right out of school.

How do you meet workforce and supply-chain challenges while making sure you’re still serving clients? 

Supply chain issues are starting to slightly improve, although still challenging for many. We also hear that materials are becoming more available and costs are starting to come down in some areas, which are good signs for owners. Workforce issues for our industry are felt by just about everyone across the board from truck drivers to superintendents.

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Resource challenges are the same for us; finding talent for our teams to continue to grow to serve our growing clients.

How does the company go about finding new talent? What are some traits that make an individual a good fit at Sandman SE? 

Meeting workforce challenges for us requires dedicated recruiting efforts and intentionality to have a presence at engineering schools and technical schools. Growing and investing in young talent has been a positive way for us to grow. Having our team members be connected to their alma maters and their former professors helps keep us linked to students.

Traits that we feel are important for potential team members are having a desire to serve people well, grow as a person, wanting to develop your career, and wanting to be part of a team that wins together then we will be a good fit.

In a snapshot perspective, how would you describe your industry in the region today? 

Strong. All areas of our industry are strong in our region even in spite of inflation. The industry has been running at an all time high for the last 2 years, so even if inflation calls for it to cool a bit, it will still be healthy.

Where do you see the industry going over the next two to five years? 

Steady or moderate growth. The rate of growth will slow because of how aggressive the industry has been in the past two years when adding the recent inflation, but the industry will be strong and ride that level out from the success that has been produced in the recent past for owners to continue their growth.

Where do you see your company at over that same time period? 

Our company will continue to grow with the demands of our clients’ growth and the industry. We have grown every year since our beginning and will continue to do so.

What makes Sandman unique or stand out from other engineering companies? 

Our people. Our people are amazing and when we focus all of our efforts on being excellent at what we do we can do remarkable things and serve so many people. Our people facilitate the success of others and we win when our clients win.

What are you most excited about with your company? 

What helps you get up in the mornings? I am excited about our future. It’s such a privilege to have so many great people on our team and to be able to provide mentorship to help them grow is the rewarding experience I have had, that’s why I get up and come to the office, to help others grow.

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