Job Front: Engineering grads optimistic about prospects

Published: Monday, Mar. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Keith Worley is a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering. Sofia Barcena is a graduating senior who will accept a mechanical engineering degree in May. The two California State University, Sacramento, students had one thing in common Friday at the campus' annual Engineering and Computer Science career day: They were confident they would land a job.

"I feel like a lot of companies are willing to share their experience. I feel like they're looking to hire," Barcena said during a break at career day.

If Barcena wasn't confident enough, she had a cheering section in her corner. Barcena's mother, Amalia Barcena-Bosnich, and aunt Myrna Giannoulis made the trip from San Francisco to meet her at the career event.

Worley felt just as optimistic about his chances after discussing internship opportunities with a representative from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

"I have a good feeling that someone's going to be interested in me," Worley said.

And, for the first time in awhile, the confidence appears to be well-founded.

A thawing economy, pent-up hiring needs to meet demand for new technology and infrastructure, and growing confidence among employers all are good signs for young engineers, said Cici Mattiuzzi, director of career services at the CSUS College of Engineering and Computer Science.

A new salary survey released Thursday by NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, shows what Mattiuzzi is seeing on the ground.

Engineering grads are a hot commodity, and they are seeing the starting salaries to prove it.

Professional, scientific and technical services gobbled up the most grads in 2012, paying new hires nearly $62,000 a year to start, the survey stated.

Manufacturers paid starting salaries of about $61,000, while government agencies paid new engineering graduates nearly $67,000 on average, according to the survey.

"The demand for engineering graduates remains strong, and that is reflected in the high starting salaries paid to these graduates," said Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, in a statement announcing the report.

Mattiuzzi said engineering students are more sought-after than they've been in several years.

Indeed, representatives from more than 80 engineering and engineering-related firms attended the annual career event.

Carl Broussard is an IT manager at Hewlett-Packard's Roseville campus. A 1989 Sacramento State graduate, Broussard was hired by the computer giant after graduation. Some 24 years later, he saw a new crop of talented young engineers.

"What impresses me is the quality, caliber and enthusiasm of the students I've seen," he said. "I'm definitely going to have follow-up discussions with the students I've seen today."

It's a different story than just a few years ago.

During the recession, employers were still hiring engineers and other technical workers, "but they had to do it without increasing costs," Mattiuzzi said. "What we're seeing now is that as the general economy expands, it's raising boats."

And it's changing the way employers such as Marysville design-build firm Frank M. Booth Inc. are thinking about hiring.

The firm "held staff at a constant level" during the recession, but did not add manpower, said Phil Ball, a chief engineer at the firm.

Today, "we're finding we have a need for students to help us to design and construct these buildings," Ball said. "We're right on the cusp from an industry perspective. By next year, it's a given that we're going to need these people."

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