March 26, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
George Deodatis: In the short term, there is going to be significant remote work done with limited time spent in the office. But long term, hopefully, the amount spent in the office close to senior colleagues will go back close to pre-pandemic levels. This is important for the mentoring process of entry-level engineers and cannot be fully duplicated remotely.
Dr. Wayne Sarasua: Civil engineering is very broad with a number of different disciplines. Some disciplines have almost been business as usual during the pandemic because they are essential for maintaining public health and safety. An example are civil engineers who work in public works. At the same time, many civil engineering firms have gone nearly entirely virtual during the pandemic. This has made it challenging for many firms to take on new graduates and provide proper training. I heard a number of stories of how the pandemic delayed, or even negated recent civil engineering graduate hiring. But the demand for civil engineers is higher than ever. Further, there will likely be a boom in construction activities to help stimulate the economy. This all starts with civil engineers. I do foresee a lot more virtual meetings (and interviews) in the future even after the pandemic is over. But the job market appears to be good right now and should get even better by the end of the summer as civil engineering firm operations return to normal.
Dr. Wayne Sarasua: Communication skills are paramount. There is a trend in civil engineering education to better integrate written and oral communication into curriculums. There are many stakeholders related to civil engineering projects. These stakeholders vary from city officials who approve and oversee projects, to contractors, to future users, to nearby residents, etc. Being able to effectively communicate with stakeholders is very important for personal advancement. Another soft skill is the ability to work in teams. Civil engineering projects are usually pretty big and require a great deal of team work during the engineering process. Hopefully, graduates had numerous opportunities during their undergraduate studies to work on team projects. I also need to mention leadership skills. Graduates should understand what it takes to be an effective leader. And they should practice these skills. They should also know how to role play.
Dr. Wayne Sarasua: A good source for salary information is the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) website. Median salaries for civil engineers have trended in the right direction as far back as I can remember and historic data supports this. Salaries are typically a bit higher in the private sector than the public sector. But recent graduates should be weary of focusing on trying to get the highest entry level salary possible. I'm a strong believer of "money can't buy happiness." In the private sector, the higher your salary, the higher your billing rate. Thus, if you make $30 an hour to start, you may be billed to a client at a rate of $100 an hour. Your productivity needs to cover your billing. Thus, you will be under less pressure the less you make. Something to think about when you are just starting out.