Another Civil Engineering Shortage?

June 11, 2009 at 8:03 am 14 comments

By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of

Here we go again?  During the recession of the 1990’s, college students turned away from civil engineering and entered markets that assurred them jobs following graduation.  Again after 9/11 civil engineering programs showed a decline in students. Both of those points in time brought us to a shortage of civil engineers during this decade. Are we heading there again?

As of March of 2008  civil engineering student enrollment was up across the states. With the failing US infrastructure, it appeared that students flocked to civil engineering undergraduate programs. One would think they would have been guaranteed a job. However, with our recession, civil engineering graduates report low employer turnout on college interviewing days. The overall job market is touted as the worst since the Great Depression. One student in the Civil Engineering Central group on LINKEDIN even offered to work for free!

Will incoming freshman students opt for other engineering discipline studies? Ten years from now will the civil engineering community find a gap in experienced engineers with 6-8 years of experience? I don’t think so.

Employers are slowly increasing their staffing outlook. Civil engineers are needed now more than ever. Transportation, water, environmental and federal programs continue to climb to the top of the contract ladder.

To quote from my favorite video from the UK Institute of Civil Engineers:

“Throughout history, it is civil engineers that have shaped and improved our lives and our environment.”

Creative, thoughtful students interested in “building a better world” will find a career awaiting them.

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14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jose  |  July 14, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Maybe a shortage is what we need to get our billing rates up there with other learned professionals and get the politcal will to truly address our infrastructure needs.

    I think many firms do not have the interest (which translates into no time and no resources) to train recent grads, no matter the economic climate. I have talked to a number of engineers that do not want to spend the time training engineers so that they can take off witht that new found experience to some other firm.

  • 2. Clayton Bennett, PE  |  July 6, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    In an economic market like we have today, employers do not have the time nor the resources to invest in training recent grads. Engineers entering the market need to expect lower pay in order to gain the experiance to get the job they want 2 to 5 years down the road.

  • 3. Anca  |  June 26, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Forbes wrote an article this month claiming, among other untruths, that “engineer is the hardest job to fill in America”, which is only true if one’s definition of “engineer” is “senior engineer with the combined skills of 5 average engineers and 10+ yrs experience”. I have 2 years experience and a degree from a top school and have been unemployed since November. Interviews have dried up and openings in other states don’t bother with me when they have plenty of desperate locals. I welcome any “shortage”.

  • 4. Bret Egan  |  June 24, 2009 at 1:22 am

    I am a civil engineer with 15 years experience, licensed PE, been laid off twice in the last year and trying to get out of civil engineering all together. The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone entering the field: all firms are good in their own way and all suck in their own way. If you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it is for a short time, then you will find that the new firm you work at has the same disfunctions as the last firm you worked at.

  • 5. Ian Kirk-Ellis  |  June 16, 2009 at 3:48 am

    I agree this has happened previously and many people gained rapid progression due to the shortage with great oppurtunities to gather experience. We have seen a loss of young bright staff recently from the industry who have gone off to pursue careers in less volatile industries I can already see that there will be a skills gap in a few years.

    Unfortunatley the industry is in constant famine or feast and we have seen the boom years when engineers were like gold dust, and now things are different.

    Many of us have reflected upon our careers and wondered what other careers could hold for us. I know a good engineer with a Masters degree and years of experience who is now retraining to be a teacher. I am sure he will succeed in his new career but its these sort of people as well as the young graduates who are leaving the industry as they have families to support.

    A few years down the line the industry will see the effect of this loss with a gap in middle ground and at the grass roots level.

  • 6. Mike Spack  |  June 12, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    This seems appropriate for this thread –
    I am looking for applicants for my traffic engineering/transportation planning apprenticeship program (details at Please pass this on to anyone you may know who may be looking to get into the traffic field – no matter what their education or background. Thanks!

  • 7. Govind  |  June 12, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    I am not so sure if there is going to be a shortage of Civil Engineers in the next few years.
    I am going to comment on the specialization that I am working in: Transporation. I am assuming this applies to other specilalizations as well.
    There are 3-4 structural changes that are taking place in the economy and much will depend upon the reaction to these changes.
    1. Depletion of Highway Trust Funds: We are all aware of the current situation of Highway Trust funds. Not enough money is being banked in the trust fund to pay for the transporation programs primarily because of people driving less and the economy in general. It is clear that the existing mechanism of funding transporation programs will not work moving forward. We are looking at gas tax increase or some kind of tolling to pay for the transportation programs. This will be the major point that will be addressed in the next reauthorization bill. If the past reauthorization exercise is any measure, I am guessing this will be delayed by a year or two primarily deciding how to pay for the transportation programs.
    2. Budget Crises in the States. States all across the US are going through a severe budget crisis that we haven’t seen in ages. Among other conflicting priorities, transportation will always be on the back-burner. Any money set aside for transportation will be burned up by the maintenance program rather than pay for capital projects. Somje states may also not be able to come up with matching money for federal programs.
    3. Collapse of Private Financing: Intrinsically tied to the point 1 mentioned above. In the past 5 years most mega projects have seen private investment in some form (PPTA). With the collapse of financial markets I sincerely doubt if transportation will be able to attract any kind of private investment going forward.
    4. Casualties of the Recession:There is not a single civil engineering company that has not laid-off people in this recession. Also due to the performance (of the lack of) of the stock market, lot of baby boomers have postponed retirement. As and when the demand picks up there is not going to be a shortage of people.

  • 8. Mike Gowan  |  June 12, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I have appreciated reading the thread regarding entry level positions and the challenges facing new grads from civil engineering and other disciiplines… In addition to Carol’s great recommendation of volunteering with Engineers without Borders and Habitat for Humanity (both fantastic organizations); I would strongly recommend every college student make a #2 priority in the educational experience to do PAID INTERNSHIPS in flelds where they are interested. For the last three summers, our son has worked in the renewables industry and at this point he has 3 companies ready to give him offers when he graduates from Washington State University… And it does not really matter which school you graduate from if you have the experience. Our oldest did the same at a Seattle Pacific University, he got paid internships thru school and summer….and landed great jobs after graduation…. You also get a chance to figure out if you like what you are studying in the “nasty now and now”. Good profs will have connections in thier fields….students..go talk to them. The best to you. The future belongs to you….seize it.

  • 9. Leighsah Jones  |  June 12, 2009 at 11:00 am

    I am a nontraditional (read 43 year old woman) who has returned to school for my civil engineering degree. I addition to civil engineering, I will also have the construction and environmental engineering (all with ABET certification) degrees when I get out of UCF. I have just been admitted to UCF as a transfer student and already signed up for Engineering Without Borders and the student chapters of AGC and SWE.

    I plan on bringing a student chapter of National Association of Women in Construction to campus as well.

    Besides the engineering courses, colleges need to emphasize the importance of networking, describing and showing exactly what networkling is (hint, just getting you a job isn’t it), and the need to stay in touch with professors, classmates, guest lecturers, etc.

    Also broaden your skill set with a project management class or even certification, construction scheduling, etc. Make yourself more valuabe rather than just a one-trick pony.

    The idea that a freshly minted college freshman will just apply for an engineering job and get it is not going to happen in this economy. And this poor economy is going to be around for quite a while despite what the media is reporting as glimmers of hope. Engineering students and fresh grads need to network, network, network. Market yourself everywhere.

    Good luck. It is tough out there, but this too will pass, just not for a while

    • 10. SM Systems  |  March 23, 2010 at 1:56 am

      Hats off to you Leisagh! You sound supremely motivated and positive, really great character traits! All the best with your studies, and may your energy infuse all around you to really achieve great heights. You just made my morning, thanks!

  • […] and project management. Take a look at Carol Metzner’s of Civil Engineering Central’s article to learn more about opportunities in civil […]

  • 12. aepcentral  |  June 11, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Hi Mike and Chaitanya…I sent both of you personal replies. It is frustrating to find yourselves in this situation. Jobs are there, although difficult to find. At this moment we have an entry level job posted on the job board. I suggest while making sure to post your resume (free) on the Civil Engineering Central board, continue to network your Civil Engineering Alumni from your school. We listed suggestions in a past BLOG on this site suggesting involvement in Engineers Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, etc. Many employers are involved in these groups and besides helping the community you are meeting Employers who get to know you. Wish I could offer some other insights. Having lived through several recessions in our industry, I say with confidence, this too will pass. For all of us, hopefully sooner than later! Regards, Carol Metzner

  • 13. Chaitanya  |  June 11, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    I do support Mike. I strongly believe that eveyone wants atleast 5 years of experience and no company is looking to hire fresh graduates and train them. One thing is sure “Rome was not built in one day” so is the case. Even I considered relocation on my own expenses but no one is ready to respond. Even I wonder where are these civil engineering jobs?

  • 14. Mike  |  June 11, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Unfortunately, there are no “entry-level” positions anywhere. Every job listing requires at least 5 years experience. It seems to me that in this economic slump, no one can be bothered to train anyone.

    And it’s not that I haven’t considered relocating as I have been searching everywhere. Where are these jobs you speak of?


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