Regrettably, today's engineering grads face one of the toughest job markets in nearly a quarter century. Yet for many of the estimated 1.6 million college students who have graduated this May and June, the news isn't all bad.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, the unemployment rate for all four-year college graduates is just 6.1 percent. For those holding only a high-school diploma, the rate shoots up to 19.6 percent. So the almighty EE, ME, CE sheepskin can still open plenty of doors. As your school counselor always maintained, bachelor's degrees are still the minimum requirement for securing an engineering job.
While a number of industries plan to hire more grads this year, transportation, utilities and alternative energy will be leading the pack. Industry observers say jobs are really opening up in these "green" and sustainability industries.
Gaining particular prominence will be the development of improved battery technologies. The demand for engineers here will be ongoing as car makers seek to lure care buyers into electric vehicles that perform more like their internal combustion counterparts. Engineers will also be needed to refine Stirling solar engines, which convert solar heat into mechanical energy to turn AC electrical generators. Several Stirling solar plants are being planned in the southwestern U.S. and throughout the world.
The good thing about today’s emerging sustainability and green fields is there aren't that many experienced people in them. That means new grads can move right in and pretty much hit the ground running, especially if they've ever done any intern work or hands-on green school projects. Better still, federal and state government entities will also be hiring in these sectors--up from last year. And get this, the federal government is offering up to 60,000 internships. Federal salaries and benefits are competitive and sometimes exceed those of the private sector.
One thing I’ve noticed that is shifting the engineering employment picture just a tad is the growing trend toward entrepreneurism. Lately, it seems that fewer engineering students are seeking full-time jobs. Increasing numbers are, in fact, going the entrepreneurial route and starting their own businesses. This year, only slightly more than half of all engineering grads have aggressively searched for a job, a drop from the nearly two-thirds in previous years.
So if you can’t land a job at an engineering firm, consider teaming up with your fellow grads and forming the next Apple or Google. The thing to remember if you go the entrepreneural route is to treat your fledgling company like a business. You should seek professional advice from business counselors and attorneys. And you should work at it every day—like a normal 9 to 5 job. You should also have regular meetings, set goals, and insist on progress reports from every member of your team.
Yes, the job market’s not great for college grads, but there are bright spots and some challenging entreprenural opportunities.