Students graduating this year with an engineering degree are finding the job market surprisingly robust.
“The demand for our EE and ME students this year continues to be strong,” says Mark Sorenson-Wagner, director of the Career Center for Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. The school is graduating about 350 students in mechanical and electrical engineering degrees this year, some 55% of whom have already found full-time jobs. Last year, the total placement rate 6 months after graduation for students was 94.3% for the college--on par with other engineering schools.
“More students this year received offers early, and more students are receiving multiple offers,” Sorenson-Wagner tells us, clear evidence of an economy that’s warming up.
About two-thirds of those students will stay in Minnesota, followed by Houston, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco as the most popular destinations for work.
Engineering majors historically tend to have less trouble finding jobs in their chosen field than their counterparts with liberal arts degrees. But during the recent recession, engineering schools saw larger numbers of students choosing to wait it out and going to grad school.
That trend is changing. At the University of Massachusetts, 10% of students with EE degrees went on to pursue advanced degrees in 2013, down from a high of 22% during the sluggish job market between 2009 and 2012.
“We hosted more companies for recruiting and posted more jobs this year than last year,” says Cheryl Brooks, the director of Career and Student Development at the College of Engineering, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “A wide range of companies recruited here this year, from large firms like ExxonMobil, Cisco, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, and Google to smaller startup companies like HubSpot and Localytics.”
Firms like Google and Cisco were also recruiting at California's San Jose State University (SJSU) this year, which graduates close to 200 students in mechanical and electrical engineering. Lockheed Martin and NASA, along with a host of large to small and non-profit organizations, were visible on campus, too.
“In the past few years we have noticed a higher concentration of employers looking to hire for engineering positions, particularly in software engineering and computer science,” says Moira Kolasinski, employer services lead and employment specialist at the SJSU Career Center.
In fact, Kolasinski says that over 50% of the employers on the SJSU campus this year were seeking electrical and mechanical engineering majors.
All this bodes well for engineering students, whose knowledge of electrical and mechanical design and integration of hardware and software systems, combined with strong computer skills, is in strong demand.
A rise in internships for engineering majors is helping to fill the pipeline of qualified students who will enter the workforce, says Buford Furman, a professor of mechanical engineering at SJSU, where internship postings are up 11.4% over last year.
“Our students are getting internships/jobs in automotive (Tesla Motors in particular), semiconductor, bio-medical, and space,” says Furman. “In addition, many smaller design, consultant firms, and some contract manufacturers are taking on interns.”
Engineering students entering the job market today are experiencing a different landscape than even just four years ago. According to U Mass’s Brooks, the top hiring industry in 2009 was defense. Since then, first computer and electronics bumped defense out of the No. 1 spot, then last year commercial products ranked first, followed by computer and electronics, and then healthcare/pharmaceutical/biotech.
While at the same time job opportunities are growing for engineering students, Brooks says employers are also getting more discerning in their decisions on whom to hire. “They are looking not just for technical skills but strong interdisciplinary teamwork skills, writing and presentation skills, initiative, and leadership ability.”
Though no one can predict the fluctuations that will play out in the economy in the future, one thing seems clear: The demand for engineers will continue to be high. According to the February 2014 report, “The U.S. Science and Engineering Workforce: Recent, Current, and Projected Employment, Wages, and Unemployment” by the Congressional Research Service, The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of S&E jobs will grow by 953,200 between 2012 and 2022.
In addition, 1.3 million scientists and engineers will be needed to replace workers exiting the field. Further, an increasing number of jobs in occupations outside of engineering are requiring an increasing level of technical knowledge.
The report also points out that, regardless of the labor requirements for S&E workers, the number of US scientists and engineers will increase US innovation, economic performance, and job creation.
— Karen Field, Editorial Director, EE Live and EE Times