What Happened To The Civil Engineering Internship?

July 31, 2012 at 11:35 am 7 comments

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com
  View Carol’s profile & connect with her on LinkedIn

Another casualty of the economic downturn: The Civil Engineering Internship. Recently I received a call from a career development coordinator for the engineering department at a respected University. We discussed the difficulty in finding internship placement for her recent civil engineering graduates. In the past, the department saw each graduate easily find civil engineering apprenticeships. In the past 2 years the University has struggled to find any for their students, let alone jobs post graduation.

When I worked as a corporate recruiter, internship experience was an added value on a resume. Whether it was working with a summer survey crew or assisting in processing plans, the students with experience received favoritism from many hiring managers. These students were perceived as having valuable practical knowledge. One manager said “this student knows what it means to get up and go to work at a civil engineering firm.” He would routinely hire these students over their counterparts who had no relevant apprentice accomplishment.

While some civil engineering firms have been hiring, they are holding on bringing in students. What will the effect be on the civil engineering profession 4- 8- 12 years from now?
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Entry filed under: Career Development, Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Civil Engineering Companies, Civil Engineering Issues, Civil Engineering Jobs. Tags: , , , , .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Disgruntled civil  |  March 28, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    I’m hearing a lot on this site from people who are unemployed, but its not a cakewalk for those of us employed either.

    If your young, have no kids, and can’t get a job, I would not sweat it that much. You still have an opportunity to do something else with your life. Being unemployed might be your one chance to escape the fate of many of us.

    Land development is definitely not what I thought it would be. I’m talking
    – frequent (unpaid) overtime,
    – less pay and respect compared to lawyers, doctors, architects, etc,
    – constant pressure to turn plans around faster
    – low advancement as workers get pigeonholed (avoid getting too good at any one thing, or else that may be ALL your asked to do).

    In this kind of environment, the engineer becomes more of an assembly line worker than a professional. How many chairs can you assemble per hour.

    Many of us were driven to civil engineering because the theory and principles interested us and because we wanted to improve society. But frankly, if you enter the field with that sort of attitude, you’ll be perceived as weak (just being completely frank). The land development industry is all about the clients bottom line.

    The industry is averse to the community and the greater good. Imagine hearing the senior managers make jokes about handicap people (because ADA costs the client money) and other community concerns. Sexism is alive and well in this industry as well. I’ve heard senior managers refer to female coworkers as b*****. Yes, you might get hired as a woman, but your going to have to work extra hard for the respect.

  • 2. Kevin  |  February 20, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    I think your analysis is spot on. I’m writing this comment in 2013, and the job situation still hasn’t improved much since 2008/2009. The civil engineering industry has hit an unprecedented downturn, and to such an extent that it might not ever truly recover. The civil engineering companies that actually survived this severe recession have had to learn to get by with far fewer employees, and with government spending almost permanently reduced going forward, it’s unlikely any of them will return to their haydays prior to 2007. They might never have a reason to drastically increase their head counts, at least for the foreseeable future. What does this mean for civil engineers looking for work? Those seeking entry level employment are more or less locked out of the market for quite some time, and those with lots of experience are now stuck applying for jobs they would have when they had first graduated from engineering school. And those with exceptional credentials that have managed to remain employed during the recession have almost certainly taken drastic pay cuts to keep themselves employed. Unfortunately, many prospective students are blissfully unaware of the true dire state of this industry, and are still entering or remaining in their chosen civil engineering degree program, probably because the media hasn’t been reporting on this specific industry. Things are bad, and will stay that way for quite some time. But in the mean time existing civil engineers still have to make a living, and many will leave the industry to pursue far better career options elsewhere. And prospective students will eventually get the word that this degree isn’t worth the effort, as all the accounting, business school, and non-civil engineering graduates start receiving far more lucrative job offers straight out of school. In the long run this will probably lead to a big shortage of civil engineers. The baby boomers can’t work forever as well. At some point they will have to retire. But will a shortage of civil engineers in the future lead to better career prospects and salaries across the industry? Given that engineering salaries have been literally flat for the past decade, versus other careers, we probably won’t see any marked improvement. And this supply far exceeding demand within this industry, it can afford to pay engineers bare bone salaries. They can either accept the low salary or join the ranks of the unemployed. This is the stark reality of civil engineering at the moment. Existing engineers will either have to wait for things to improve, or plan their exit from the industry. Prospective students, at least the smart ones, will study something else instead. This is coming from a civil engineer nearly 40 years of age. Stay away from this industry. I wish I had never set foot in a civil engineering classroom, and had studied mechanical, electrical, or industrial engineering instead. I’m sure if I had I wouldn’t be looking back on the last 15 years of my life wishing I hadn’t made such a bad career choice as I am now. And I know I’m not the only civil engineer that feels the same way.

  • 3. Jimmy  |  August 17, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Civil Engineering has changed drastically and probably won’t be the same as it was prior to the economic collapse. I always thought that Civil Engineering would provide a solid career and something to always fall back on. This is not the case!

    To illustrate, in Spring 2007 I sent out about 20 resumes and had 5 internship offers for a variety of Civil Engineering jobs that summer. I graduated in May 2008 in the top 10 of my Civil Engineering class from one of the best programs in the country, but this didn’t matter since the economy collapsed. I sent out 200 resumes and had 2 job offers, only one of which was actually in Civil Engineering! I also had a full time job offer from my summer internship from 2007 retracted. All of the managers I worked with that summer were laid off! I’ve never heard of such a situation in any other field of employment

    I’m more than disappointed with my career choice in Civil Engineering and have changed my career direction to Geosciences and Petroleum with master’s in this field now. I’m glad I studied engineering because it was so challenging and rewarding for me, intellectually However, it has not been a rewarding career choice. Civil Engineering is difficult and is extremely low paying compared to other engineering and science disciplines. I simply would not recommend this field to anyone because of the unprecedented changes in this industry. Today there are engineers with P.E. licenses and 10 years of experience competing for entry level work that companies would hire engineers with a B.S. and 0 years experience 10 years ago.

    I don’t believe what the BLS publishes nor can I believe the projected growth in this field in the next 10 years.

  • 4. CL@Clengi  |  August 8, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Despite doing really well in classes, getting an undergrad TA position and passing my EIT my junior year I really wasn’t able to find an engineering internship, even just looking for ones to apply to was really hard because not that many companies seem to be hiring engineering interns right now.

  • 5. Changing Directions  |  August 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Based on my unsuccessful civil engineering job search post graduation (May 2011) I suspect that many graduates with or without previous internship experience are not going to find a civil job any time soon if ever. I tried everything: had a previous internship and worked part time at the same company while I finished school, involved in ASCE, networked, cold calling, personally going to offices inquiring about job openings, filling out a host of online applications, and only had two interviews and no offers. I suspected that one interview was “required” (municipal job) and they already had someone hired. The second interview was due to an employee referral. Once younger generations find out about the poor job prospects in civil engineering they may just major in something else. Then we could expect a shortage of civil engineers in the future.

  • 6. Dreamer  |  July 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    This casualty of the economy won’t be resurrected. The senior level engineers who should be retiring won’t until they can recoup most of their lost retirement income from the stock market crash in 2007-2008 – and I certainly can’t blame them for sticking around hoping that things will change, however with the economy at a standstill – they won’t be getting that money back any time soon. Since those senior individuals aren’t leaving, the entry-level opportunities that should have arose for new graduates aren’t transpiring.

    Professionals with 15-20 years experience who are currently employed are hunkered down and those looking for work are filling up the entry -level positions, which is a great bonus for the employers but not what those seasoned engineers were anticipating at this stage of their careers.

    So what does that mean to those of us like myself, recent graduates who are still trying to get into a civil firm and develop a specialty? It means zero opportunity for potentially the next 3-5 years. Do you think civil firms who are hiring in five years will be forgiving when they look at our resumes and see we were working at this contract and that contract trying to make ends meet? I’m not so sure. I returned to college as a mature student so I have nearly 15 years of survey experience and another five working in engineering and construction firms. This brand new shiny degree has netted me a temporary contract position for a utility construction firm and now a summer internship which is slated to end in a couple of months.

    So in 4-8-12 years, I anticipate a serious shortage of skilled civil engineers. When those senior engineers do actually retire, those of us who had to take whatever to make ends meet or gave up trying to become engineers and took a side profession – means that skilled civil engineers will be at a premium.

    I struggle with this thought process though? If I were the employer I would want to be hiring the new graduates because I could get two of them for the cost of a senior engineer, and like any garden I would nurture them, provide them with ample opportunity to excel and learn and compensate them well so I could be assured they will stay on with my firm so that in 10 years I would have a seasoned staff – not of the verge of retirement or in a category which demands top salaries, and my firm would have the edge. But alas – I am not an owner of a civil design firm – yet.

  • 7. FatSquirrel  |  July 31, 2012 at 11:56 am

    A recent graduate should be getting an entry level position rather than an internship. The construction industry is returning but still struggling and nowhere near pre-recession levels. Many civil graduates took jobs in construction management but now all are looking to engineering firms which don’t have near the turnover or job creation rate that construction companies do.


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