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I recently had the opportunity to give a guest lecture to a room of about 30 senior-level engineering students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Before I arrived, I wanted to know what students thought about the construction industry. Their professor, Bob Schmitt, helped me survey them online.

Most of the students had prior experience in construction. Of the 26 students that responded to the survey, nearly 81% said they had worked on a construction project. I also asked students whether they planned on entering the industry after they graduated. A little more than half (57.7%) said they did, while the remainder said they did not plan on going into construction.

When I asked them what they liked most about construction, their comments included the following:

• "Project management and being outdoors"

• "You can actually watch structures grow and change the face of the Earth"

• "I like seeing a project come together, piece by piece"

• "The many different problems that come up in the course of a project"

• "Action"

• "Hands-on work"

• "Watching the process of a project and seeing the final product"

• "Big equipment is fun to drive"

As you can see, the responses generally showed a desire to solve problems and take pride in the real-world outcomes. As I spend a good deal of time covering equipment for ENR, the last one was my personal favorite, though. 

Now we turn to what the students said they liked least about the industry:

• "Bad weather"

• "The heat"

• "Seasonal highs and lows"

• "Inconsistent work schedule; long hours; bad projects, which lead to loss in money; and hard labor

• "Putting an accurate estimate to a project with today's economy always changing"

• "Noise"

• "Lack of focus on safety by some companies"

• "Travel"

• "Some of the guys you work with are slobs"

Most of the responses focused on the quality of life of the worker, not the design or construction challenges. A few touched on the financial risks, but most were concerned about their personal safety or work-life balance. If you are in the business of recruiting civil engineers, these complaints may be among your biggest hurdles.

It's almost graduation time, and another class of civil engineers will be looking for construction jobs. Or will they?