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Job market for engineering grads bouncing back

Hundreds of students met with employers during the three-day
                        Career Connection.

Hundreds of students met with employers at the Engineering Centers Building during the three-day Career Connection in fall 2004. (large image)

Business is booming again at UW-Madison's Engineering Career Services (ECS), and that's great news for student job seekers.

"This is the best hiring situation we've seen for BS students since 2001," says Associate Director of Engineering Career Services Susan Piacenza. "Fall 2004 recruiting was double that of spring 2004." In addition, more than 100 employers are expected to attend the college's spring student job fair Career Connection January 25-26 — the highest number attending the spring fair in several years. It's a 40-percent increase in the number of employers who attended the 2004 spring career fair.

Indeed, 2004 saw an extremely slow spring recruiting season — in fact, the worst recruiting season in 16 years, says Piacenza. Fall 2004 recruiting was up about 25 percent over fall 2003, and while not up to pre-recession levels, she indicates it's extremely encouraging both to students and to ECS staff assisting them in their job searches.

The boom in interviewing and job offers is occurring across all majors. While majors like civil and environmental engineering held steady even during the recession, ECS is again seeing a huge demand for IT employees. There is even resurgence in consulting positions. For example, Accenture and ZS Associates have greatly increased their recruiting presence on campus and have extended numerous offers to graduates. Also, software giant Microsoft has made multiple recruiting trips to the engineering campus this fall.

For the past several years, multiple offers had pretty much evaporated for engineering students. Now such offers are returning, particularly in hot areas like chemical and biological engineering and healthcare consulting, along with the return of signing bonuses and relocation packages.

"We have students who are getting multiple offers and are having to decide between using their skills in consulting or technology," she says. "One student was so happy with his multiple offers, he bought pizza for our entire office."

Chemical and biological engineering senior Megan Gullicksrud attributes her multiple offers in part to her own extra effort. "I have done a lot of extracurricular activities to differentiate myself from other students and have completed multiple co-ops and internships to expand my experiences." Still, she says, "I was surprised that I got as many offers as I did since the job search for graduates in the last few years had been so difficult." She also reports receiving incentives after the final offer, including more money and more vacation.

Civil and environmental engineering senior Scott Hughes also fielded multiple offers, including one from a company where he completed a co-op term this past summer. With a certificate in construction engineering and management, Hughes chose to accept an offer at M.A. Mortenson's Minneapolis-St. Paul division. The company is located near family and friends, but "the final factor was that it was a very competitive offer," he says. "They offered a good salary, good benefits, a signing bonus and a relocation reimbursement."

Employers are getting creative to compete for the best students. One industrial engineering senior, co-oping at a large medical device company, received an offer from the company whereby it would pay for her remaining three semesters of school on the condition that she would work for them full-time for at least a year after graduation.

"Of course, she's strongly considering it," Piacenza says.

It's particularly gratifying to see companies return to campus for recruiting after an absence of several years, says ECS Director and Assistant Dean Sandra Arnn. Companies returning after an extended recruiting absence include Carrier Corporation, Advanced Micro Devices, Cisco Systems, United Conveyor and Bose. A prime example is Ford Motor Company, which returned to campus recruiting this fall after a three-year absence and scheduled more than 100 interviews. "We are delighted to see the return of these employers — this is a major shift," Arnn says.

A wide range of first-time recruiters joins the returning companies. These include Google.com, Amazon.com, Clorox, Stockamp & Associates, Bobcat, Biodiesel Systems and Brunswick. There is also a large contingent of federal employers seeking engineers, including the National Research Laboratories, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, the National Security Agency, National Institute of Health and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has 700 job openings to fill.

All in all, says Piacenza, it's a good time to be earning an engineering degree. "It's especially good to be a graduating engineer from UW-Madison," she says. "Companies know our graduates are well-prepared and have a strong work ethic. They've participated in extracurricular activities and co-ops, and they reflect well-developed leadership skills. Those qualities are high on any employer's list for potential employees."

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1/24/2005