Why would civil engineers struggle to find work in a “shovel ready” economy?

Over the past couple months and just this week we’ve had some civil engineers and architects who are part of our Public Insight Network tell us they’ve been laid off and that work is difficult to find.

It’s odd to me because there’s been so much talk about building and fixing roads, bridges and other public works with federal stimulus money. Seems like you’d need every pound of asphalt and every civil engineer you could lay your hands on.

It’s not the case. A couple weeks ago, Bryan Oakley, a civil engineer from Plymouth, described his job security as shaky. “Many of my friends are unemployed because of the housing and commercial building slow down,” he said.

Michael Berg from St. Paul told us in November he was a civil engineer laid off the prior summer. He told us then:

Civil Engineering work tends to be cyclical, though not to the extremes seen in other industries. Since most of the work is based on public funding (ie roads, bridges, water/wastewater) or business expansion, the slow economy hurts the industry, and there is a lag between the economic fortunes and the industrial fortunes. As the economy goes, so goes the industry, about 6 months later.

He got back to us today with better news:

I’m currently employed, as of Mid-February, but not exactly in the same capacity that I was before. I was out of work for about 6 months total, and I had exactly two second interviews out of over 100 jobs applied for, and maybe 8-9 interviews total.

I’m currently working designing well screen systems for water wells. It’s not what I’d have chosen a year ago to be doing, but it’s a good job nonetheless with a good company and great benefits.

I thought I’d have seen a lot more jobs after the new year, but that never materialized. I haven’t looked lately, but I think the DOT is starting to hire, because I was called last week on a position I applied for in January.

Projections from the Minnesota Labor Department bear him out. Jobs in architecture and engineering are expected to decline 5 percent this year.

Those projections may not include the impact of the federal stimulus plan. It’ll be interesting to look back at the end of this year and use engineer/architect employment as one means to judge the success of the stimulus.

Drop me a line if you have some insight on the employment situation for engineers and/or architects, or post something below.

You can also help Minnesota Public Radio News get a handle on the state’s employment situation by answering a few quick questions about how you’re doing job-wise.

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