Next weekend I’m going to give a presentation at the University of Michigan. I figure that the best way to capture the attention of a collegate audience is to promise sure-fire tips for getting a job. Unfortunately, the current economic climate is likely to undermine my message. The challenges facing graduates in 2008 are real. However, companies are looking for uniquely qualified individuals that can lead the profession in the 21st century.
The most immediate challenge faced by graduates (and the country as a whole) is the current financial crisis. From what I understand, the underlying problem has to do with the difficulty companies and individuals now face in getting lines of credit. Last week, I visited a construction site. The workmanship was top notch. The construction managers explained that most of the laborers on that site are typically leaders of their own crews. However, so many of their projects have been put on hold, that the construction company has been forced to lay-off all but their best people.
One way to lessen the effects of an economic slow down is to develop a diverse set of services. Since the past slow-down in 2003, my company has been actively trying to diversify its expertise. The existing building renovations and tenant build-outs that I mentioned in previous blogs are examples. In addition, we perform city-mandated façade inspections, work with insurance companies, and serve as expert witnesses (to name a few services).
Most recently, we’ve established a group to provide innovative building skin consulting services to architects and building owners. The company was able to hire one of the consultants that worked on the Water Cube made famous at the Beijing Olympics. In any market, people with unique skills will be highly sought after. New graduates should seek opportunities to broaden their knowledge base beyond traditional civil engineering tasks.
Another way to survive an economic slowdown is to expand business to international markets. While the West slows down, some countries, like the United Arab Emirates, are steadily investing in building construction and infrastructure. By now, most people are familiar with the Emirates’ efforts to create artificial islands in the Persian Gulf and the world’s tallest and most architecturally significant structures.
Again, my company was fortunate to snag an engineer with the experience to lead in these new markets. This has put us in a position to win several more jobs in the Middle East. We’re now even opening an office in Abu Dhabi.
The opportunity to gain international experience isn’t just limited to senior associates. Last year, I took the opportunity to participate in an international exchange program between my company and a Danish firm. I truly feel that the experience of living and working abroad will substantially benefit my career. College students should take opportunities to study and travel abroad.
These are only a few suggestions to succeeding in the 21st century. Other challenges are related to rapidly changing technologies, dwindling energy supplies, climate change, and international competition. The engineers that solve these problems will have diverse backgrounds and draw their inspiration from many aspects of life. To find a job and keep it in 2008 make sure that there’s something special on your resume and be ready to explore all options.