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Job prospects brighten for engineering graduates

Release Date: April 14, 2011

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – After two years of trying to get companies to return her calls, Peg Pierce of the Office of Career Services (OCS) at Lawrence Technological University now finds it hard to keep up with all the requests from companies looking for recent college graduates with engineering degrees.

“In the automotive industry, the demand for engineers has really picked up in the last three to six months,” Pierce said. “We’re getting calls every day from companies wanting to promote opportunities that they have.”

Job listings on Lawrence Tech’s CareerQuest website have more than doubled since last year, and most of that gain has come in engineering. On a recent day, 183 of the 259 listings – or 71 percent – were related to engineering.

Recent survey results from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) also show the job market is improving dramatically. The share of companies expecting to do more hiring has increased from just 13.5 percent last year to 47.7 percent this year. Employers in the Midwest project a 20.2 percent increase in hiring.

The NACE survey showed that the positive trend started last year. Survey respondents in automotive manufacturing hired 82.6 percent more college graduates than originally expected.  Engineering services hiring was 41.8 percent higher than expected.

Pierce said the opportunities for engineering expertise aren’t always where students expect to find them. Biomedical engineering students look for jobs in the health care industry, yet General Motors has recently been hiring biomedical engineers to work on ergonomic design and crash testing.

Engineers also may be surprised that there may be jobs for them at Landon IP of Southfield, a legal services firm that provides patent analysis. Yet the company is currently looking for engineers in many disciplines to analyze patent applications.

While the trend is very positive for college graduates with engineering degrees, Pierce urges students to act quickly when they learn about employment opportunities. At this time of year college seniors are busier than usual as they prepare for exams, but that they should remember that employers have deadlines of their own.

“I tell students that they have to be available when the jobs are instead of waiting until it’s convenient for them,” Pierce said. “Job opportunities don’t always come along at an opportune time.”

Students attending the April 5 networking reception for employers at Lawrence Tech found that many Michigan companies have shifted hiring into high gear.

More than 20 companies signed up for the OCS career week mixer, and many were looking for new employees with engineering and IT skills.

“In the past year we’ve seen a steady increase in employment opportunities, but the big difference with this career fair was that everyone here was actively recruiting for positions that need to be filled,” Pierce said.

Joseph Miller, an engineering manager at the Bosch facility in Plymouth, said he came to Lawrence Tech looking for new hires with strong engineering qualifications, not just candidates for internships and co-op programs. To emphasize that point, he brought along two employees in his department who are Lawrence Tech alumni.

Tony Farrell, who earned his degree in mechanical engineering in 2001, and Jim Darkangelo, who earned an electrical engineering degree in 2005 and a master’s degree in mechatronics in 2008, both work on electronic stability control systems for ABS brakes.

Miller said he and his team identified three or four good candidates at Lawrence Tech’s career mixer. He pointed out that Bosch currently has 56 positions posted on at www.boschjobs.com and urged job seekers to look for positions that fit their skill sets. “There are constant new opportunities, and not just in automotive,” he said.

Keith Huck of Proper Tooling, an injection molding company in Warren that supplies tooling for the automotive industry, said he has hired between 50 and 60 new employees in the past year. He was at Lawrence Tech looking for engineers to help deal with growing demand for his company’s products in the automotive sector.

It’s a dramatic rebound from two years ago. “We experienced a huge drop in sales and had to lay off 30 percent of our workforce. Now we are overwhelmed with work,” Huck said.

Tara Umlah, a talent acquisition associate for Tata Technologies in Novi, had a similar story. She was laid off during the depths of the recession that hit the automotive industry particularly hard. Tata Technologies has been hiring new employees for more than a year, and it has become harder to find qualified candidates because the automotive companies are also hiring.

“The pool of candidates isn’t as deep as it was [a year ago],” Umlah said.

Demand for new graduates is growing in other sectors as well. Quicken Loans, which is making the rounds at college job fairs in the Detroit area, plans to fill about 110 openings, mostly at its offices in downtown Detroit. In addition to needing more mortgage bankers, Quicken Loans has openings in IT, marketing, public relations, and human resources.

Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, offers more than 100 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degree programs in the Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management. Founded in 1932, the 4,500-student, private university pioneered evening classes and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech’s 102-acre campus is in Southfield, and programs are also offered in Detroit, Lansing, Petoskey, Traverse City and Toronto. Lawrence Tech also partners with universities in Mexico, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.