Job Offer Heaven. Oregon State University construction graduates enjoy booming job market. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University Construction Engineering Management Department)

Richard Jackson, a senior construction management major, describes his impending degree as a “hot ticket.” With extra time spent on his capstone project, he doesn’t graduate from Wentworth Institute of Technology, Boston, until Aug. 19, but job offers have been pouring in for months. Jackson could work locally, but with multiple offers in hand he has the luxury of considering one as an assistant project manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. in Brisbane, Australia. 

With construction industry work force needs growing along with most markets, the global job picture was particularly bright for Class of 2006 construction, engineering and other graduates headed to firms and public agencies. Although little overall data exists yet, students, placement officers and employers report offers and starting salaries that reflect strong demand. Most of Wentworth’s 44 seniors had job offers even in May, with starting salaries ranging from $45,000 to $70,000, says Mark Hasso, construction management coordinator. Average starting salary for Colorado State University’s 200 CM grads increased this year to $49,000, says program head Larry Grosse.

Recruiting on college campuses is as fierce as ever. “This is the strongest hiring market I’ve seen in four years,” says Greg Baker, assistant professor in Oregon State University’s construction engineering management program. “The most active business process we have now is finding people,” says Richard Fox, president of CDM, Cambridge, Mass. “We will hire 150 new grads this year. Typically, it’s under 100. We now have seven inhouse recruiters.”

Purdue University’s civil engineering  career fair began in 2002 with only 25 firms recruiting. This year there were 80, with more than 100 expressing interest for next year. “The interest and amount of company contacts we get every day is phenomenal,” says Linda Higgins, CE co-op and internship coordinator.

University officials report interest from large and small industry firms, material suppliers, owners, public sector firms and non-construction employers in banking, real estate and even food-service. Demand is rising in nuclear power. “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission wants to hire 300 nuclear engineers this year, maybe more,” says Purdue nuclear engineering professor Audeen Fentiman.

While other engineering majors may  draw more students, civil engineering’s   solid job prospects are compelling. “It’s not as glitzy as some other fields, but graduates have a job for life,” says Errol Noel, civil engineering professor at  Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Students are also “very selective of what jobs they take,” says Purdue’s Higgins. Dave Chmielewski, CE graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, accepted a $48,500 job offer from M.A. Mortenson Co. in Chicago before graduation that included moving expenses. But he also considered long-term career possibilities, the firm’s financial strength and type of work. Robert Arquilla, human resource director for ERM Group, Exton, Pa., says grads are choosier about work location but show more interest in the firm’s “charitable” work such as post-tsunami Indonesia.

The crunch is pushing more employers to seek future recruits earlier through internships or co-op programs that start as early as freshman year. Three out of four students stay with a company where they completed a co-op, resulting in fewer waiting until senior year to make a job decision, says Michael Eicher, manager of industry relations at Arizona State University, Tempe. “It’s hard to get students to attend recruitment fairs because they already made a decision on where they want to work,” adds Leandra Aburusa, University of Idaho, Boise, student support coordinator.

Schools say demand is boosting enrollments. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, which enrolls an average of 420 freshmen, boosted acceptances to 500 this year. ASU enrollment had a sustained growth of 55%. But other colleges are leveling off enrollment to maintain student quality and prevent outstripping of resources and facilities. “We are under tremendous pressure to expand to produce more graduates at a time when funding for expansion through our normal channels is limited,” says Raymond K. Schneider, interim chair of Clemson University’s Construction Science and Management Dept.