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Civil Engineering is hazardous to your career prospects

  1. Feb 6, 2010 #1
    I've just read an article that my friend forwarded to me. It has me worried since I'm a civil engineering major, and I want to know whether things are really that bad. To be honest, I knew that CE wasn't the best engineering major to take because of the real-estate fueled recession, but this article has only fueled my fears. Should I change majors?

    Here's the article:

    Civil Engineering One of the Hardest Hit Majors, Job Prospects Poor.

    For the class of 2010, a degree provides no expectations of jobs. While this is true for almost any major, it is an incredibly apt statement for dozens of civil engineering students graduating this spring.

    Both anecdotal and empirical evidence paint a gloomy picture of job prospects for civil engineering majors. The construction industry has been the hardest hit during the downturn, and some analysts believe that there is enough housing to last for over a decade even if all new construction ground to a halt. While the national unemployment rate hovers around 10%, the unemployment rate in the construction industry is 19.4%. Moreover, this decline shows no signs of stopping even though other sectors of the economy have slowly been recovering. According to the BLS, the construction jobless rate was 18.7% in October 09, but it shot up to 19.4% just one month later.

    Amanda Gordon, a recent graduate, is feeling the pain. "I've been looking for engineering jobs since the beginning of my senior year two years ago. Despite sending out almost a hundred resumes so far, I've only gotten six interviews and no job offers." Those who dismiss her difficulties by assuming she was a slacker in college would be sorely mistaken. Her GPA is a stellar 3.5, and she has half a year of internship experience.

    Things have gotten so bad that the campus culture appears to be changing. "It's always easy to differentiate the upperclassmen from everyone else", junior Henry Clayton joked. "The seniors and some juniors nervously watch Bloomberg in the cafe, while the freshmen and sophomores sitting next to them talk about things like partying, playing basketball, or watching Avatar."

    Recently, a disturbing trend has emerged. More and more students are postponing graduation in hopes of waiting out the recession, and their numbers have been exponentially increasing. The numbers are especially high among civil engineering majors. Three years ago, it was almost unheard of for students to deliberately delay graduation, but an informal student poll estimated that the percentage of CE students who could have graduated in 2008 but chose not to was 3-5%. That number reached 8-10% last year, and it is expected to top 15% this spring. Some students are taking minors or are attempting a second bachelor's degree, while others are simply taking a lighter course load and enjoying their time on campus.

    Despite these trends, advisors have sought to allay student fears and concerns. "Civil engineering is a very broad field", one of them said. "Our graduates who do not want to pursue construction go into other fields such as water resources and transportation. One of them was even hired by an oil company." Many prospective students aren't buying it.

    "Advisors, professors, and everyone else working in the civil engineering department have a conflict of interest" undeclared freshman Jeffrey Lee said. "They want more students taking civil engineering because more students mean more funding. Regarding their claims, it's true that some civil engineers work in fields outside the construction industry, but the large majority of civil engineering jobs are construction related."

    Other CE students have been resigned to a state of despair and desperation. "I'm sorry to say this, but there are often times when I fantasize about the city being destroyed by earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes. At least the rebuilding process will give us some jobs." one student said. "It's too late for me to change my major, so that's all I can hope for."

    For the rest of us, we hope that his wish for a natural disaster may never come true.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2010 #2
    I'm not a CE, but a 3.5 GPA isn't that amazing. My university has a TON of CE students, and I'm sure a lot of them have perfect or near perfect GPA's.
  4. Feb 9, 2010 #3
    Yes it's bad if you are a civil engineer, but it's also bad if you are an aeronautical, electrical, MBA, physics major, mechanical engineer, janitor, baker etc. I don't quite see why being a civil engineer is particularly bad, and with the stimulus package there should be money going into construction.

    "I'm sorry to say this, but there are often times when I fantasize about the city being destroyed by earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes"

    When I graduated in 1991, there was a weird mood "The Soviet Union has just fallen, the world need not fear global thermonuclear annihilation, but wait I was hoping for a job with the military-industrial complex."

    A few years ago there was a brief moment when it looked like an asteroid would hit the planet and my first reaction was to think that this might get me hired for something.

    On the other hand, it's worked the other way. I remember someone from the class of 1958 talking about his senior year. The US was in the middle of a recession, and everyone was pretty glum and desperate about looking for jobs, and then the Russians sent up Sputnik and everything changed overnight.

    Tough times is when its useful to read history. If you read stories from the Great Depression, it feels a bit less lonely, and you feel a little better when you realize that some people managed to face things that were worse and somehow pulled through.
  5. Feb 10, 2010 #4


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    I think that is over exaggerating!, there are tons of jobs for someone with a degree in CE, alternatively you could just go into Grad School and maybe do a Master in Operations Research and/or Industrial Management. Stop being so shortsighted!!. In this World, you have to be proactive!
  6. Feb 12, 2010 #5
    It's because most of the job losses have been concentrated in construction and real estate, and the great majority of civil engineers have work that is directly related to those fields. For example, how are you going to design structures, highways, or sewer systems if nothing is being built?

    Other professions (manufacturing, physics, janitors, etc) are also suffering, but not as much since they are not closely linked to the construction and real estate sectors.
  7. Feb 13, 2010 #6
    There are many aspects to CE. It is the oldest of the engineering professions (but not the oldest profession ;)) that goes back to Egypt and earlier. Since water is a major defining issue to the longevity of civilizations it follows that proper water resources management is needed. Therefore try to get interested in this part of CE and get some hydraulics, hydrology, water resources, environmental, etc. courses and build your expertise up and look for jobs in that area. You will find a lifetime of work in water resources engineering and the related issues to be very challanging and jobs will always be available.

    I have practiced water related engineering in Florida since 1970 and have found the variety and technical issues to be very challanging and rewarding and the need for expertise and experience in water resources is only getting more in demand no matter where you locate.

    Without drinking water gold has no value.
  8. Feb 16, 2010 #7
    There are some non-construction related aspects to CE, but how many of these positions are available? I just heard from a friend this morning that >90-95% of CE jobs are construction related, while water resources makes up something like 2-3% of jobs and everything else combined (environmental, geotechnical, traffic flow, etc) makes up the remaining 5%.
  9. Feb 17, 2010 #8
    Well while that is the case I was only commenting on water resources as another important area of CE that could work out for some. Granted as you note the jobs available in that part of CE are smaller but positions are available. The bottom line is still to pick the area that truly interests oneself because it is more important to love what you do than to do what you don't like.
  10. Feb 21, 2010 #9
    In terms of jobs, civil engineering isn't any worse or better than other engineering professions.
  11. Feb 21, 2010 #10


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    Fix up/rebuild the old ones. A lot of work.
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