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education
EMPLOYMENT
Class Of 2003 Finds Jobs Tight But More Interest In Engineers
 
By Rachel Maisler and Bill Snyder
While college graduation is a cause for celebration among departing students, this year’s job market may not be. Tougher economic times are taking a toll on offers to the construction industry’s newest job seekers, but some are finding a civil engineering degree very marketable.

Some larger firms, such as Kellogg Brown & Root, Houston, are cutting back on hiring. Dawn McRea, a KBR human resources staffer, says the number of recent graduates being hired now is "definitely lower than it’s been." But she notes that "we have had some positions pop up in the past couple months."

MARKETING Job fairs on campus grew in importance this year as competition for good jobs increased in a down economy.

Civil engineering appears to be okay. "It’s actually a good time to be a civil engineer," says Manuel Perez, director of career services at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. "Of all the engineering disciplines, civil engineering is doing the best in opportunities…with small private companies that are looking at rebuilding the state infrastructure."

Nancy Evans, director of the Engineering Career Assistance Center at the University of Texas, Austin, says that of the school’s December 2002 graduates, all but one is now either working or planning to attend graduate school. "Civil engineering is doing very well, it’s electrical engineering and mechanical engineering that are struggling," she says.

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Even with a shaky economy, engineering grads are still likely to find employment within six months of graduation. "Historically, architectural and civil [engineers] get the highest number of offers," says Drexel University research specialist Mark Palladino. While only 14% of the Class of 2002 were still seeking jobs four months later, that is higher than in two previous years. "For the class of 2003...it’s probably going to be just as tough this year," he says.

"Overall civil engineering students are doing better than students interested in other areas," says Thy Nguyen, assistant career services director for engineering and sciences at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. "But it’s still pretty tight, and the market is still down from where it was a few years ago."

Michelle Fuller, a Drexel June graduate, is one of the lucky ones who nailed a job offer early. The civil-architectural engineering double major was hired last Thanksgiving by Nave-Newell, a Cherry Hill, N.J., consulting engineering and planning firm. But with unemployment on the rise, she admits that "people who have jobs are very nervous they’re not going to have them down the road."

Some grads are heading for traditionally lower-paying but more stable positions in the public sector. "We used to have a lot get into consulting," says UT’s Evans. "That has dropped off. The Texas Dept. of Transportation is now hiring a lot of graduates." But not all DOTs are so inclined. "This year has been very challenging with the financial situation," says Tisha Wong, recruitment analyst for the California Dept. of Transportation, which is under a statewide hiring freeze ordered by Gov. Gray Davis (D).

Perez says that more students are looking at the federal government and even the military. "They are looking at it as a temporary career until the economy picks up, then coming back and working in private industry," he says.

Shirley Harrison, a college relations representative for Bechtel Group Inc. in San Francisco, finds that work experience is important when her firm hires college graduates for civil, mechanical, electrical, and environmental engineering. "We look for students who come out prepared with at least one quality internship."

But more grads also are considering graduate school. "The number of U.S. students applying is twice what it has been in recent years," says Jim O’Connor, a UT professor of project management. "Interestingly, we’re also getting inquiries from people in their 30s, 40s and even in their early 50s."


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