February 19, 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.
University of Alabama at Huntsville
Department of civil and environmental engineeringWebsite
Michael Anderson: The biggest trend is employers want motivated employees. Given the pandemic and the inability to work in typical office settings, employers need employees that have the self-motivation to work remotely.
Michael Anderson: Obviously the Fundamental of Engineering Exam is vital. Senior Design course and the role of the individual is important. During an interview the ability to speak to your contribution on the project, both technical and management is key to impressing a potential employer.
Michael Anderson: They have risen. Civil Engineering salaries for entry-level positions have almost doubled in the last 25 years.
Weber State University
Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringWebsite
Dr. A. Tye Gardner Ph.D.: The effect of the pandemic on the electrical engineering job market heavily depends on location, since some industries are thriving and others are struggling. However, more companies than ever are moving towards automation, machine learning, and AI driven solutions. Electrical engineers are well suited to all of these positions, particularly for those with graduate degrees. Recent surveys have indicated that the pandemic has been a bigger influence on technological innovation inside of companies than any other factor, so expect rapid growth in electrical engineering careers, limited more by the lack of graduates than a lack of jobs.
Additionally, for better or worse, expect the work environment to change as companies re-evaluate whether they really need as many applications engineers as they have. On a brighter note, expect more work from home positions to be created. Whether these positions stick around is yet to be seen, but I side with the majority when I say I think they will. It's hard to get skilled workers to live where land and taxes are cheap, but not so hard to convince them to work from home.
Dr. A. Tye Gardner Ph.D.: Locally (and I suspect nationally), we're seeing a boom in the demand for systems engineers: those that can bring together a diversity of skills and manage a project. These positions have traditionally gone to skilled engineers with a decade of experience or more, but the shortfall in experienced systems engineers has resulted in new grads working in these positions. Getting a certification in systems engineering will allow students to capitalize on the opportunity.
Dr. A. Tye Gardner Ph.D.: Getting a master's degree goes a long way to making candidates stand out and improving earnings. My recommendation is to tailor your MS degree to the specific field you're interested in working in, because employers really want to see candidates that are passionate about the field, and very few people survive a graduate degree without at least a little passion. Available salary data indicates that if you choose an affordable program (let's just say Weber State University), it takes only a few years to pay off the added cost, increases starting salaries, and dramatically improves long-term earning potential. Moreover, you can find electrical engineers with MBAs at C-level positions all over the country. It turns out being an EE makes you a good candidate for business leadership.
The University of Texas at Arlington
Department of Civil EngineeringWebsite
Bijan Shapoorian: Construction Management as a profession involves performance of several different tasks such as Cost Estimating, Planning and Scheduling, Supervision and Inspections to name a few. Some tasks such as cost estimating and planning and scheduling can be conducted remotely while some tasks such as supervision and inspection remain face to face. Recent pandemic along with the increased usage of technological tools have influenced the method of conduct for many professions and businesses. However, construction management will not be going through a transition as fast as some other profession such as Engineering and Architectural services. This is due to the nature of this profession.
Bijan Shapoorian: Staying up to date with the new software and available technology remains as one of the major challenges in this industry. Most software offer online tutorials.
Bijan Shapoorian: In most Construction Management programs, Internship courses prepares the students for the job market and the industry. Those CM students who have obtained a degree in CM but lack work experience are recommended to search for internship opportunities if finding employment becomes a challenge. Students are advised to be flexible and willing to relocate to geographical areas with higher demand for this profession.
University of Michigan
Department of Industrial and Operations EngineeringWebsite
Brian Denton Ph.D.: The job market remains strong for our students. Perhaps there will be less hiring in areas most affected by the pandemic (e.g. sports, events management, restaurant chains, airlines and other transportation companies). On the other hand, our students are often hired to work on opportunities for creating greater efficiencies, and reducing costs, so opportunities may still be strong in these areas.
Brian Denton Ph.D.: Communications, both written and verbal, are always important. So is leadership training, teamwork, and resilience. We expose our students to all of these topics, often referring to them as "essential skills" to make it clear how important they are.
Brian Denton Ph.D.: It really depends on the specific job, but a common theme for grads from our department would include analyzing data to understand operations of an industrial system, working with non-engineers to develop an understanding of business goals, and developing a data driven model that can be used to support decision making.
Pennsylvania State University
Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringWebsite
Martin Pietrucha Ph.D.: One of the biggest trends that we will see is lesser reliance on brick and mortar office space for hosting workplace activities. While this will be a general trend, this will be particularly true in the civil engineering field since infrastructure is "outside," which already oriented many civil engineering activities toward "field" work. Further, as many engineering planning and design activities are solitary pursuits, working remotely on those tasks makes a great deal of sense. Design review, public involvement, and the like are activities that require social interaction. These undertakings will be better practiced in group settings like an office or public meeting space.
Martin Pietrucha Ph.D.: Given this trend, employers will be looking for the usual superior engineering knowledge and skill sets, but they will also be interested in those who can prove that they are excellent self-starters and time managers. Being able to demonstrate one's "flexibility" and an ability to think on one's feet will also be highly desirable.
Martin Pietrucha Ph.D.: Any job when you are getting out of college is a good job. Government, consulting, small organization, large organization-each of these provide valuable experience for the engineer just starting out in a career. There is something to be learned from each of these fundamentally different kinds of experiences. In government service, you get great exposure to the regulatory side of the field. In consulting, you get to experience the business aspects of engineering and client relations. In a big organization, you get to bore down and develop some very specific expertise in a technical area. In a small firm, you get to do a little bit of everything.
Colorado School of Mines
Mining Engineering DepartmentWebsite
M. Stephen Enders Ph.D.: The pandemic has caused slow-downs and some shutdowns as a result of COVID infections; but otherwise, the robust market for metals and minerals continues to be strong. This is due to several factors, the most news-worthy has been the continued strength of Chinese demand in the shorter term and from the energy transition and need for critical minerals in the longer term. I believe the job market for upcoming graduates who want a career in the mining and mineral exploration business will be strong in 2021.
See this recent article:
M. Stephen Enders Ph.D.: The most important thing that stands out in resumes is past job experiences, particularly student internships in relevant companies. This demonstrates a student's ability to work safely and effectively in the workplace. The companies that employ our students expect them to have a fundamental proficiency in the basic sciences and mathematics as well as in the principles of engineering. Although this is necessary, it is not sufficient for most companies. They prefer graduates with demonstrated strong interpersonal, communication, teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking skills. They also want to see evidence that graduates can integrate and analyze multidisciplinary datasets, and they would really like to see computer coding and modeling expertise. On top of all of these attributes, companies also want to hire leaders and those who have a fundamental understanding or societal issues that impact their industry. This is a lot to expect. Students can get some of this from coursework and active participation in student clubs and other organizations.
Additionally: Presentation skills - written and oral. Management skills - CSM mining engineers have 3 to 4 courses focusing on management (mine operations, safety, construction and project mgt.), plus opportunities to work as crew fore(wo)men at the Edgar mine, where they get to lead small teams of junior classmates and assume responsibility for safety and job completion.
M. Stephen Enders Ph.D.: All states have some type of mining operations even if they are quarries for sand & gravel operations. The states that have very strong mining industries include: Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, Florida, and many others.
In the U.S. mining industry, there are >2 jobs for each mining engineering graduate. This has been about the same for the past 10+ years and is not expected to change in the foreseeable future. Similar situations exist worldwide.