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Job market looks good for May engineering graduates

The job market for this May’s graduates at the state’s largest engineering schools is in great shape, sources say.

At the University of Mississippi, associate dean of engineering Dr. James G. Vaughn says the outlook for its graduates is good. “We believe most of our students will have not just one job offer, but many job offers,” he said. “Quite a few already have jobs.”

Vaughn, who’s been at Ole Miss since 1980, says the starting salary for engineers is in the $45,000 to $55,000 range. The school will graduate approximately 75 students this May with about that same number receiving master’s degrees. Additional engineering students will graduate in August and December ceremonies.

Graduates at Mississippi State University (MSU) are also having a banner year. “If an engineering graduate tells you it’s a bad job market, that means he has two offers instead of 12,” said Dr. Luther Epting, director of the career center at MSU. “It’s probably the best market I’ve ever seen.”

Significant observation

That’s a significant observation, considering he’s been at the career center for 38 years. He lists several factors for the great job market. “The economy is better. Employers didn’t do a lot of hiring for a few years. Now retirements and attrition have caught up with them and they realize they need to bring in some new blood,” he said. “Hurricane Katrina has had some effect, too. We’re just seeing that employers are hiring. Recruiting is strong and that converts into jobs.”

Epting said a lot of MSU’s approximate 400 graduates took jobs before Christmas. Internships, summer employment and the cooperative education program at MSU are major ways students segue into permanent jobs. Both universities assist students in finding employment through career fairs, setting up on-campus recruitment and other ways.

“This week we have about 100 companies on campus interviewing our co-op students and 85% to 90% of those are engineering students,” Epting said. “It’s unbelievable the interest we have pouring in here, and we’re not an easy place to reach. Recruiters tell us it takes a day to get here, a day for interviews and another day to return home.”

Ole Miss holds career fairs in the spring and fall, plus the School of Engineering goes the extra mile for engineering students. “We allow companies to give 15- to 20-minute presentations,” Vaughn said. “We block companies so a given type of students — such as chemical engineers — can choose what they want to attend. Some students got jobs from that; others through faculty contacts and through alumni who turn into recruiters.”

‘Well rounded’ graduates

The associate dean said Ole Miss students take jobs in the state, in surrounding states and all over the country. A few examples of where the grads are going to work include the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Raytheon in Forest, Eaton Aerospace in Jackson and Diversified Technologies in Jackson.

“With our students, employers know they will get students well-rounded in the basic science of engineering, but also well rounded in liberal arts,” Vaughn said. “Also, our students can communicate and be leaders. They have good social skills and can work in team efforts, something that’s becoming more and more of a requirement of engineering, and we try to emphasize that to our students.”

Epting says recruiting activities were not as strong during the years of 2000 to 2005 but picked up last year and this year. “Employers are looking for students with technical skills, a good education and experience,” he said. “Most of our graduates are 22 and 23 years old, but they gain experience through our big co-op program, internships and summer employment. There are lots of opportunities to work and our students have a strong work ethic.”

A recent recruiter from South Carolina told Epting this year’s spring graduates are the best he’s ever seen.

“Recruiters like that our students are friendly, personable, polite and neat with no piercings,” he said.

Bright futures

Vaughn says the future of engineering is excellent. “This country and world is going more to a technology-based way of life, and engineering is the way things are going,” he said. “We need a lot more engineers because we do not produce nearly as many per capita as some other countries.”

He thinks engineering does not get the media attention of high-profile jobs. “Students grow up with TV, and they don’t see engineers as role models,” he said. “Students today are different and our professors are modifying the way they teach those students.”

Ole Miss students graduate from the School of Engineering with degrees in chemical, civil, electrical, geological and mechanical engineering along with computer science. Although the numbers fluctuate, civil engineers have dominated for the last two years.

Epting agrees on the bright outlook for engineers. “Without a doubt, engineers are in demand, and if an engineering graduate has no job, he’s not looking or knocking on doors,” he said. “The number of May graduates without jobs is dwindling. We are living in a world that requires more and more engineers.”

He believes Toyota Motor Company’s decision to locate in Mississippi will open up additional opportunities for everyone, especially for engineers whose technical skills will be wanted.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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