February 20, 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.
San Diego State University
Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering
Janusz Supernak Ph.D.: COVID-19 had an impact on all of us, graduates included. The transition to switch into remote learning on a short - just 10 days notice - in mid March 2020 was challenging for professors and students alike. Yes, not all consequences were negative. The pandemic just accelerated the process of transitioning into a hybrid type of instruction where the online
course delivery will have a more prominent role - even after the lockdowns are over. The transitioning was actually smoother than expected. We used this situation as an opportunity to check if the pandemic affected students' perception about the effectiveness of their learning. Although the "COVID period" scores were generally lower than the "pre-COVID period" scores, only 21% were actually statistically significant. Interestingly, student outcomes scores in the Senior Design course were actually higher under pandemic than before COVID. More on this in a Jan. 2021 publication :
Supernak, J et al, (2021), "COVID-19: How Do Engineering Students Assess its Impact on Their Learning?" , Advances in Applied Sociology, 11, 14-25,
Out of necessity, the overall computer literacy has increased during the pandemic which is a good outcome.
Janusz Supernak Ph.D.: All fields are different. In Civil Engineering, there will be a lot of work in any foreseeable future. According to ASCE, American infrastructure needs
a $3 trillion (!) investment to be back in great shape. This is an example of a "good job out of college". Two factors: 1) good prospects for sustainable employment, and 2) good prospects for a high salary when demand for civil engineers and constructors is higher than supply of new graduates.
Oklahoma State University
School of Civil and Environmental EngineeringWebsite
Norb Delatte Ph.D.: I believe that employment in civil engineering will recover quickly. Actually, hiring has remained strong throughout the crisis.
Norb Delatte Ph.D.: Civil engineering offers a wide variety of jobs in both the public sector and private sector. Public sector includes state transportation agencies and city and local engineering offices. Private sector jobs include consulting firms and construction.
Norb Delatte Ph.D.: Employers are looking for strong design technical skills, and the ability to master design software rapidly. Professional and people skills are also important, because many of these positions deal with the public and with stakeholders.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Department of Civil Engineering
Jorge Vidal: Active participation in student organizations, particularly the ASCE and internshipsCivil/Structural Engineer related to the civil profession or AEC industry (Arch, Engr. & Constr)
University of Alaska Anchorage
Department of Civil EngineeringWebsite
Scott Hamel: There will be a continued blurring of work and home for both an employee's time and space. This will be both beneficial, with employers allowing more flexibility for parents of young children or caring for elders, and detrimental, as work encroaches even more on personal time. Employers will continue to be wary of taking on recent graduates until the pandemic is under control, because it is a challenge for them to provide good mentorship and guidance. However, once work-from-home orders have been lifted, hiring will be strong, as there is pent-up demand.
Scott Hamel: In Civil Engineering, employers are always looking for recent graduates with either construction or drafting experience (or both). A new employee can much more easily connect their academic degree with engineering design or review tasks if they have spent time seeing and assisting in the construction process. And with the continued implementation of BIM and 3D terrain modeling, young engineers spend more time as hybrid designers/drafters, so coming in with those skills means less training.
Scott Hamel: Alaska! Despite abbreviated drops in oil prices, hiring continues to be very strong for Civil Engineering graduates. Large scale infrastructure and military project spending tends to lag recessions by a few years, and so construction has continued to be strong through the pandemic. Post-pandemic federal stimulus spending will likely continue this strength and it's possible there will be no dip in the AEC industry at all. Climate change and the opening of the northwest passage has caused a renewed interest in the arctic, spurring infrastructure investment in Ports and transportation infrastructure. In addition, Baby Boomers continue to retire in large numbers, leaving a lot of opportunity for capable young engineers in the 49th state.
Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringWebsite
Eric Musselman Ph.D.: I think one big trend in Civil Engineering resulting from the pandemic will revolve around the changing workplace. Companies will be looking to either modify existing spaces or purchase new spaces to better accommodate their needs as more employees work from home at least part of the time. This will likely result in significant changes to land development and building design.
Eric Musselman Ph.D.: Skills that stand out on resumes include leadership roles in student groups/organization, demonstrations of your ability to communicate effectively with technical and non-technical audiences, and an understanding of systems thinking and sustainability.
Old Dominion University
Civil and Environmental EngineeringWebsite
Sherif Ishak Ph.D.: In my opinion, the job market for civil engineers remains strong despite the pandemic situation. Needless to say, it has been very challenging for some sectors of the market to sustain the impact of the pandemic which has resulted in hiring slowdowns or even freeze in many companies and agencies. However, in this day and age, technology came to the rescue for all of us, allowing telecommuting and distance learning to prevail during travel restrictions and lockdowns. The civil engineering job market is driven by infrastructure need for expansion and repairs. This remains a top priority for the US in the years to come and will create more job opportunities for civil engineers. Perhaps, the work environment will be slightly different in the post pandemic era where people will have the option and flexibility to work remotely.
Sherif Ishak Ph.D.: Technical competencies are important to show on resumes. However, in today's market, employers are looking for other skill sets such as communication, leadership, entrepreneurship, and evidence of professional development at time of graduation. It is very important to emphasize such skill set on the resume to convince employers that you are a well rounded person and have the capacity to continue learning and gaining experience on the job.
Sherif Ishak Ph.D.: The civil engineering job market is very broad and extends over the geographical area of the US. Wherever infrastructure exists, civil engineering jobs will too. The job outlook for civil engineering is very promising and the opportunities to work in the public, private, and government sectors are always there.