It's that time of
year again. College seniors are getting ready to graduate
and are gearing up to enter the "real world." So,
what makes this year different from all other years for engineering
grads? Last year's unemployment rate was nearly 6%, the highest
yearly average since 1994. In 2002, many reduced operating
costs and staff, leaving many recent college graduates unemployed.
However, an engineering degree may be the light at the end
of the tunnel.
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics
reports that jobs in the engineering field are "expected
to increase more slowly than average," the good news
is that BLS is projecting job opportunities to be "good"
over the next eight years. With technology constantly advancing,
engineers will be needed to design and construct new systems
and structures. Growing numbers of engineers will be needed
to build bridges, roads and tunnels, control pollution and
erect public facilities for the growing population. For these
reasons, during this slow economic period, BLS expects that
engineers will be less likely to be laid off than those in
Larger companies such as Lockheed
Martin, are facing a "train wreck" situation. According
to Director of Human Resources Tracy Carter, that means companies
will have a more "senior" work force, leaving them
in search of replacement workers.
Over the next five years,
Carter says, the situation will lead to a portion of Lockheed's
population looking to retire. "The number of eligible
candidates is not going to be sufficient to replace those
leaving the work force," she says.
On the other hand, small firms
like Barton and Martin, a Philadelphia-based civil engineering
firm, cannot afford to hire recent college graduates.
"We look for people with experience,"
project manager Jerry Dewaghe says. "It's not that we
don't want to hire, it's that we don't have the resources
to train them."
Shirley Harrison, a college relations
representative for Bechtel Group Inc. in San Francisco, also
finds that work experience is important when her firm hires
college graduates for civil, mechanical, electrical, and environmental
engineering. "Grade point averages don't tell it all,"
says Harrison. "We look for students who come out prepared
with at least one quality internship."
National trends have shown a consistent
number of bachelor's degrees awarded in engineering since
1987, and BLS does not project the number to increase anytime
Even with a shaky economy, engineering
grads are still very likely to find employment within six
months of graduation.
and civil [engineers] get the highest number of offers,"
Drexel University Research Specialist Mark Palladino says.
According to Drexel's "Senior
Survey," four months after the class of 2002 graduated,
74% of the engineering majors were employed full time, while
14% were still seeking a job.
Palladino says previous years were
more lucrative for graduates. "Within the last few years,
the class of 1999 was reporting 79%," he says. "The
class of 2001 reported 84% employment full time after four
months. For the class of 2003
it's probably going to
be just as tough this year as it was for the class of 2002."
According to Virginia Tech's "Post
Graduate Report," graduates of an engineering program
were more likely to get a job than graduates of any other
program, except for business, in 2001. Within the engineering
school, ocean engineers reported the highest percentage of
employment, followed by civil/environmental operations and
civil engineers. Most graduates found jobs through personal
contacts or networking.
Palladino says Drexel students
have a unique advantage, because "the co-op experience
definitely gives our students an edge over other students."
Michelle Fuller, a senior at Drexel,
will be graduating this June with a job. The civil and architectural
engineering double major was hired by Nave-Newell, a consulting
engineering and planning firm specializing in residential,
retail and commercial land development, in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Fuller's job hunt wasn't very
long. In October, she attended Drexel's job fair, with resumes
in hand. Fuller researched companies attending the fair in
advance and arrived early to hand out her resume. Afterward,
Fuller signed up with Drexel's online system for job interviews
and had two out of three interviews on campus. By Thanksgiving,
she was offered a position as staff engineer at Nave-Newell.
To Fuller, getting a job right
now is "kind of just luck." By the time Fuller attended
the job fair, she had already completed three co-ops. "Drexel's
not so bad because of co-op," she says. "You know
how to act in interviews."
But with unemployment on the rise,
Fuller says, "The people who have jobs are very nervous
they're not going to have them later on down the road."
Carter's advice for graduating
engineers: "Be well-rounded, really focus on getting
everything [you] possibly can out of school
"From year one, try
to find summer jobs in a related field," says Dewaghe.
"This is very important for civil engineers."
Carter says it is also important
for graduates to "be able to interview effectively. Do
understand about the corporation and articulate
how you can add value to the business. Be mature and professional
in an interview."
Fuller says to "relax and
be yourself" when interviewing for a job, "and if
they don't like you the way you are, then you're not going
to like the job."