Engineering Situation Difficult, Not Dire

Gov. Mike Leavitt has taken numerous trips to Silicon Valley in the past two years trying to lure high-tech companies to Utah.

Leavitt, with support from lawmakers, has showered money on engineering programs with the charge that they double the number of engineers and computer science graduates in five years.

The U even has plans to construct a new engineering building to handle the influx of students.

But engineering jobs have not avoided the economic downturn that hit Utah and the nation as a whole, making it more difficult for those graduates to get jobs.

In the past year Autoliv cut 460 jobs, Alliant-Thiokol cut 50 jobs, Novel cut 84 jobs, Iomega cut 110 jobs and Intel cut 100 jobs. This only names a few of the high-tech companies that have downsized due to the recession.

Lisa Christensen, assistant director of Career Services, says engineering majors of all types need to be aware of the economic situation, but they shouldn’t let the bad news upset them too much.

Christensen still believes every engineering major will find a job, though it won’t be as easy as in recent years.

“This year, it is a difficult economy for everyone. It is the same for every discipline,” she said.

When Christensen started helping engineering seniors find jobs four years ago, students had no trouble fielding multiple offers months before they graduated.

Now students must work to find their dream job.

“There are jobs out there,” she said. “There is just fewer of them. More are applying, which makes it more rigorous.”

It doesn’t help when many U alumni were among those laid off.

Christensen gives both U students and alumni the same advice when they talk to her.

She tells them they will have an easier time landing a job if they don’t look solely at their specialty but at other opportunities within their discipline as well. Graduates willing to move to another state are also more likely to get a good job.

“It is a difficult situation, but not dire. Hopefully, it will start to look up,” she said.

Mechanical engineering senior Brice Jensen started his job hunt back in September. He has interviewed with at least 10 companies that he found with the help of Career Services.

“I’ve been to a lot of second interviews. This is the culminating week. This is when it is all supposed to happen,” he said.

Jensen expects to get at least one offer from his preferred three companies, and he is excited about that. From his estimation, only about one quarter of the normal number of companies came to the U looking for engineers this year.

Lonnie Rees, one of Jensen’s classmates, said he would only take a design job. He said while Career Services is helpful, the office tends to provide students with less than desirable job opportunities at times.

He suggests that students try to make outside contacts with employers and other engineers. That is how he found his job.

Computer science major Ben Newton has decided to start graduate school instead of brave the job market.

“One reason, I decided to do that was I heard it was harder to get a job,” he said.

Engineering is a field that hasn’t been affected as much as business or architecture, but engineering students, faculty and Leavitt hope the economy turns and the jobs come back, or the U may not need that new building after all.

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