Despite the current economic downturn, the demand for Cal Poly civil engineers still looks good, according to department chair of civil and environmental engineering Rakesh Goel.

He said President Barack Obama’s infrastructure plan to create more jobs for civil engineers could be one reason why.

“There is a pretty even demand for civil engineers,” Goel said. “They can go into the public sector, but they can also have jobs in a private form, so I think the job market is pretty wide open, and it’s basically up to the imagination.”

Infrastructure projects require workers, and Cal Poly students are ready to dive head first into the workplace as leaders, supervisors or designers of projects, Goel said.

“Our students are ready to work on day one — that’s what is attractive to employers because people want workers who are ready to work as opposed to people they might hire from other universities who need to be trained for about six months before they are ready to work, so our students have that advantage,” Goel said. “With the whole philosophy of ‘Learn By Doing,’ our students are trained in applying knowledge to solving problems.”

Many Cal Poly civil engineering classes include a hands-on component, he said.

“A lot of Cal Poly civil engineering classes have labs where students get to apply the theories they learned in lecture to solve actual problems, which makes a big difference for Cal Poly civil engineers,” Goel said.

Hands-on experience and internships are very important for Cal Poly civil engineers for two reasons, he said.

First, they give the students a taste of real work in the real world. Second, internships are an opportunity for employers to check out a student before they offer them a long-time or full-time position, Goel said.

Spencer Reed, civil engineering senior, said he has completed three different internships and plans to use his hands-on experience to increase his chances at employment.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Reed said. “I’m relying on the internships I’ve done to help me find employment.”

Reed has had two internships in Portland, Ore., doing transportation work, and has also done an internship with the Missile Defense Agency.

Cal Poly civil engineering students also find employment with private companies as well as public sectors, Goel said.

Many go into the private sectors or the public works department doing infrastructure work. The California Department of Transportation, which runs much of the infrastructure in California, is a popular employer for such work, he said.

Other graduates hold positions as bridge engineers, energy solutions engineers and staff geotechnical engineers.

“An interesting dynamic which is changing lately is that, even though a student’s starting job might be in California, they may be sent to a site wherever the project is,” Goel said. “Lately, I’ve seen a lot of the big construction companies having more openings outside (of the U.S.), so if our students are willing to travel overseas, there are a lot more opportunities there nowadays.”

A degree from Cal Poly holds a lot of significance both in the U.S. and overseas, Goel said.

“Cal Poly’s civil engineering department is ranked No. 3 in the nation against all public and private schools who do not offer a doctorate program,” he said.

Cal Poly is beat out only by Rose-Hullman Institute of Technology and The United States Military Academy, West Point, Goel said.

Because of Cal Poly’s elite status, civil engineering students, such as Reed, say they feel quite confident about their potential job prospects after receiving their degrees.

Cal Poly Career Services shows that 81 of the 142 civil engineering graduates from the 2009-10 school year responded to a survey sent out at the end of the year. Of that, 42 of the graduates were employed full-time, three were employed part-time and 14 were attending graduate school. Roughly 25 percent of graduates were unemployed, and one was not seeking employment.

The median salary was $55,000 annually. Their job titles ranged from structural engineer, making $28,000 annually, to facility engineer, making $78,000 annually.

Engineering professionals who specialize on infrastructure are there, but the job projects aren’t necessarily. Obama looks to change this, though, because he sees the importance of infrastructure as an increasing issue in the nation today. Obama’s proposed infrastructure plan would essentially create 2 million jobs for civil engineers and construction workers if it passed.

“It cannot hurt,” Goel said. “We will always need roads and always need bridges and we need people to build them. Infrastructure directly affects our quality of life.”

The money used for the infrastructure projects would create more jobs for civil engineers, Reed said.

“If the money comes through, it will be good,” he said. “Not only for civil engineers but also for construction workers and people buying homes. … It will be really good for jobs.”

The need for infrastructure and jobs justifies big spending on projects, civil engineering freshman Kerry McCormick said.

“Any spending toward infrastructure would increase my job chances as a civil engineer,” he said. “We already have a crumbling infrastructure, so more jobs would be good for any civil engineer.”

This article was contributed to by Gina Giannosa.

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