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Training & Education
Friday | 15 October, 2010 | 6:30 am

Jobs for engineering students

By Lauren Duensing

October 2010 - The fallout of the economic recession in 2008 caused all industries to re-evaluate resources. The metals and manufacturing industry was not immune to these changes as many companies curbed hiring practices and outsourced positions to more economical options overseas.

"Hiring freezes were imposed on engineering managers," says Harold Brody, a professor at the University of Connecticut. "They had to hire engineering graduates as consultants rather than hire them full-time." Despite this drop in employment, Brody believes there is "pent up demand" for engineers, which will result in an uptick in job opportunities.

Animated applicants
Today's students are excited about the idea of working on major technological and societal challenges that will affect real life. For example, according to Brody, his students are enlivened with the thought of innovating propulsion systems for jet engines and for space exploration or working on orthopedic replacement prostheses. "It's the big issues that get students excited," Brody says. "So what we [faculty and the industry] have to do is show them how materials and metals processing relate to overcoming major obstacles in reaching critical goals."

The key to attracting future engineers is going beyond the term manufacturing, says Brody. "Terms like aerospace attract students--freshmen engineering students are not thinking 'I am going to work in a forging shop or foundry when I graduate,' but if they are exposed to manufacturing design projects, they make the connection," Brody adds.

Engineering students expect to work in innovative and interesting work environments after they graduate. Students are weary of investing time and effort pouring over advanced mathematical and physics equations that may not lead to employment. In order to communicate how robust the job market is for engineers, Dr. Michael D. Whitt, college-wide chairperson for the Department of Engineering at Miami Dade College, pulls up the website Monster.com for his students. "It's a very simple exercise," Whitt begins. "Monster.com isn't the best website for engineers to find jobs, but it accentuates the point I'm trying to make that on any given day, there are more than 5,000 available engineering jobs." Whitt conducts this exercise to illustrate there are more jobs currently than there are qualified people to fill them.

Getting the word out
Although the job demand is out there, potential hires are more scarce. Faculty and industry experts find themselves thinking of new methods to encourage students to enroll in engineering programs. "I think it's part of our [professors'] mission to make sure we can get people interested and trained," Whitt says. "I don't think faculty do enough," Brody says. "I believe it is the faculty's responsibility to get the word out." Brody says constructive dialogue between the industry and the academic world is necessary to 'develop champions' within both organizations for strategically integrated approaches.

Industry-funded scholarships also are used as tools to encourage promising seniors. "Companies used to give scholarships out to seniors who were soon to graduate," Brody says. "We [academia] try to convince the industry to provide these scholarships over the full four years so that the pipeline is consistently filled with potential engineers."

As the industry continues to expand and look for new hires, professors find students from other disciplines looking to transition careers. "I've had students come into my office who were in the humanities or nontechnical areas of study but are now thinking about becoming an engineer," Whitt says. "They often say, 'I don't think it's for me because I don't like math,' but I honestly believe everyone has an engineer inside them."

Whitt's logic stems from his belief that a lot of people are intimidated by the math and science required to become an engineer. But Whitt believes sometimes, connecting an engineer's role to real life is key. "Working on an equation or doing a derivation just for the sake of doing a derivation isn't a whole lot of fun," Whitt says. "But if you are doing the integration for an equation to try to determine if someone has cardiovascular disease, or if you are trying to figure out a way to put a new type of snow tire on a car that will give it higher traction, then it becomes fun."

Encouraging students to link their school projects to the industry is an integral part to encouraging growth. "I think of the relationship between schools and the industry as a partnership," Whitt says. "There are some things that can be done at a university or college to introduce concepts, but I don't think a student can really see the benefit unless they can see how it is used in some type of application." Partnering some schools with companies for student projects allows students to see real-world applications of their work and reassures companies that capable engineers continue to graduate. MM

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