Leaving Minnesota? Keeping young engineers

MinnEcon readers know we’ve worried a lot about Minnesota’s ability to keep its young talent in state and we’ve also been concerned about the employment hit engineers have taken in this economy.

Ben Bradley’s story gives us a chance to talk about both.


Bradley, 22, graduated in May from with an aerospace engineering and mechanics degree from the University of Minnesota. An Antigo, Wis., native and source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, he’d hoped to land a job in Minnesota but it didn’t happen.

After applying for more than 200 jobs here, “I came to the realization that no one is actually hiring new engineers in Minnesota. I had a few interviews and was told at the end that I am highly qualified for an entry level position and that they would keep me in mind once things turned around but, like everyone else, they are unable to hire anyone at the time.”

I started looking for a job in October of 2008 in the hopes that I could have something lined up so I could go to work immediately after graduation. I had high hopes of working for the local branch of a defense contractor that had sponsored my senior design project.

After the contractor failed to get the contract that I was to work on, I began applying to every entry level Aerospace related job in the state. I applied for months and was either rejected or ignored by every company I applied to.

Once I graduated, I started expanding my search to any engineering position I was remotely qualified for. Many of them said that they were impressed with my internship experience and educational record but that they were not in a hiring position at the moment.

He realized he’d have to look elsewhere. At a job fair at the U he talked with some out-of-state employers. A few weeks later he interviewed with the Navy in Maryland and two weeks after that he got a job offer and took it.

There’s a lot of upside for Bradley. But it’s one of those stories that should have us concerned here as we look to the future.

With Minnesota’s economic success over the decades, we’ve become conditioned to believe it will always be that way. The recession’s exposing that conceit.

Manufacturing, the muscle in Minnesota’s economy (and employer of lots of engineers) has taken a beating in the recession, with more than 40,000 jobs lost in the past year.

We’re hoping to get an update on the employment situation for engineers from Mary Detloff, executive director of the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers. Back in April, she told us:

“Things are no better than they were in December. If anything, they’ve probably worsened some. The influx of stimulus money to the state should help somewhat, particularly in the transportation sector (which is part of the larger umbrella of civil engineering). But we haven’t seen that money yet, so it’s too soon to tell what effect that may have. Companies are still having layoffs and jobs are pretty hard to come by, though there are a few out there scattered around.”

Bradley says many of his U classmates are still looking for work. “One of them, a chemical engineering grad, got a job in Minnesota…I have other friends who got jobs in Illinois, California and Utah.”

He also hopes to move back to Minnesota some day, which will be great if the jobs are here.


Think I’m overstating the worry about Minnesota’s future economy? Post below or contact me directly and let me know.

  • I have not found work as a Chemical Engineer for 5 years now. In fact, of my graduating class of 40 back at Carnegie ’87, I know of only 12 still working as engineers in some capacity.

    This is a direct reflection of the simple fact that we do not make stuff in the USofA anymore. A lot of this has to do with the long-term strength of the US Dollar, which I expect will end. However, the change will be slow.


    If you look at the 50 year trend for manufacturing, there is no inflection point of any kind – no place where it changes one way or the other. It’s been straight down.

    There’s no place for engineers in an economy based on BS. Our only hope is the restructuring that no one is willing to even talk about – but one will come. I have some hope that there will be room for those of us who want to be productive, but it may be too late for me.

  • Paul Tosto / MinnEcon

    Erik, thanks for that great perspective.

    Minnesota manufacturing leaders are talking more upbeat these days: http://bit.ly/6W9mbg. And I think the market for engineers will improve.

    But 40,000 manufacturing jobs lost in a year in Minnesota is a big hit. Even in a recovery, I wonder how and when those jobs return.