Because a Good Structure Team Needs a Good Foundation

“Wait a minute. Let’s look at it on Google Earth!”

Words that the structural engineering team at the Salaberry-de-Valleyfield office have heard a thousand times. Actually, this quip from Luc O’Neil, when a young engineer comes into his office, typifies his mentoring style – understanding and knowing the people he’s dealing with so he can help them better.

With his retirement approaching, Luc reflects on his career and how he didn’t have it easy when he started at EXP 35 years ago. “I had nothing except for my knowledge and my books. That’s why, throughout my career, I have tried to make sure that new engineers don’t experience what I went through in my early days and that they get help and support.”

Luc believes that you have to get to know people before you start advising them. He will talk about the weather, vacations or family. He pays attention to their interests and the things they are passionate about. Connections are made and new engineers feel more comfortable discussing the challenges they may be facing. Louise Quesnel firmly agrees. “Luc is always cheerful, and his door is always wide open to us. He’s there for his team and he’s able to create a working atmosphere that’s pleasant and conducive to discussion.”

Mentoring can take many forms, and Luc has always acted as an advisor and a catalyst for finding solutions. Maxime Primeau gives a good example. “One of the first projects I worked on with Luc was very unusual. A structural slab had to be completely rebuilt in an industrial setting, where highly corrosive chemicals and rebar did not make good comrades. Luc really helped me understand the project, beyond the plans, and develop an overall view. When you are fresh out of school, the hardest things to come to grips with are feasibility and working methods, but Luc knows how to help young engineers, and takes the time to explain how these jobs are done.”

With junior engineers like Alyssa Quach, Luc stressed the importance of putting the client first. “He taught me to cultivate good relationships with clients and architects, and to manage contingencies and stress on the work site.”

Yacinthe Parent points out that Luc has not only contributed to the success of individuals, but to that of an entire department, by teaching new engineers and passing his technical knowledge on to them. He teaches them how to analyze technical problems thoroughly and how to think in a structured way.

Luc has had a considerable impact on the whole team, but his legacy has been felt even more keenly closer to home. His son Charles has followed in Luc’s footsteps as an engineer and EXP employee. Charles’ feelings come across strongly when speaking of his dad. “I was very moved when I learned that the team, all six of them, had put my father’s name in for this expresso issue, because it says a lot about him. He’s a man of integrity, he’s genuine, he listens to people and he’s always ready to help. My father doesn’t see himself as a mentor. For him, helping others is natural. He doesn’t want young engineers to go through what he experienced when he started out as an engineer.”

The final word goes to Pierre-François Giroux. “With his cheerfulness and his sense of humor, Luc makes his working environment enjoyable, despite stress, budgets and tight schedules. His retirement means that his co-workers are losing not just a mentor and a very well-liked colleague, but a real pillar of the department. And of course, no structural engineer likes to lose a pillar!”

Mentor: Luc O’Neil, P.Eng. | Structure Engineer | Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, QC
Mentees: Pierre-François Giroux, P.Eng. | Structure Engineer | Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, QC; Charles O’Neil, P.Eng. | Infrastructure Design Engineer | Montreal, QC; Yacinthe Parent, P.Eng. | Structure Engineer | Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, QC; Maxime Primeau, P.Eng. | Structure Engineer | Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, QC; Alyssa Quach, Jr. Eng. | Civil Engineer | Montreal, QC; Louise Quesnel, P.Eng.  | Structure Engineer | Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, QC

*Originally published in EXP’s Expresso: Mentorship