Long Island engineering firms continue to find it challenging to attract top talent engineers despite a recession that has left so many Long Islanders unemployed. Graduating engineering students, in contrast, face a tight labor market.
The competition for experienced engineers is especially fierce in certain niches.
Stantec, a multidisciplined design and consulting firm that employs about 40 engineers and architects, finds there is a shortage of MEP engineers who have facilities and design experience. Not too many students are going into MEP engineering as long as it is a lot of hard work, and there isn’t a lot of glamour in it.
Rather, engineering students are drawn to sexier disciplines like computer engineering. The idea of setting up global connectivity sounds more appealing to many young people than doing the drainage for a new site development.
A higher volume of engineering candidates has been noted since the recession began, but it is still difficult to fill positions that require specialized niche skills within the broader electrical and computer engineering categories.
Satellite communications company Globecomm Systems Inc. generally recruits globally, by looking for people with a minimum of five years’ experience, and paying a premium to bring them to Long Island because of the high cost of living here. It is often easier for a company to attract candidates from across the world than from elsewhere in the United States to work in Long Island. Many people from other countries see it as a good opportunity to come there.
In an effort to draw in young people before they leave Long Island, many firms offer internships through local colleges with engineering programs, such as the New York Institute of Technology and Stony Brook University. “We have had success bringing in summer interns and then hiring them and keeping them on Long Island,” said Christopher W. Robinson, president of RMS Engineering, who added that one problem his firm must get around is a lack of accredited civil engineering programs on Long Island. “We have reached out to other disciplines, such as mechanical engineering, and trained dedicated engineers who want to stay here,” he said.
Nethertheless recruitment is down at colleges, with those companies that are hiring making offers to fewer students and later in the school year than in the past. “The economy is coming back very slowly, and companies are being very careful about their headcounts,” said the director of the career center at Stony Brook University.
Companies that are in the market for college graduates in 2010 can have their pick of top candidates. H2M has received about six times more entry-level resumes than in a typical year. “We hired five people who are graduating in May,” the executive of H2M said. “We were able to get great talent – people who had great internships and are very eager to be here because there is less opportunity than in the past.”
However, many firms are skipping college recruitment this year as they look to weather the recession with the staff they have. Many firms have gone to a four-day work week, and some have had layoffs on top of that. Whereas in the past, there may have been 10 firms competing on a project, now there are 40 or 50, and fees have gotten lower because of the increased competition.
Lilker, which hired new employees last year, didn’t feel the recession’s effects until late spring 2009. Since things have slowed down, Lilker will hire this year only on a case-by-case basis, and the firm has avoided layoffs by going to a 4 ½-day work week.
Many believe the Long Island economy has turned a corner, but it will take a while for the region to bounce back. “We feel things have bottomed out,” said the director of sustainable design for Lilker. “But we still have to dig our way out.”