Before I get too into this rant, I am going to say a few things. First of all, everything said here is 100% my opinion, albeit informed by the things I have seen and experiences I have had. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. Make your own decisions and gather your own evidence. Last, I am not very politically correct. I will probably swear and use offensive terms in this. But it’s MY rant. On MY time. On MY blog. So if you don’t like it, here’s the (really cute) door.
So, to get us started, here are some quotes regarding engineers and engineering.
“Right now…there is a sufficiency of engineers, but one of our greatest industrial organizations, after careful study, predicts the entire absorption of this group [within two years]… with a probable shortage of available engineers at that time.”
—Collins P. Bliss, dean of NYU’s College of Engineering
“With mounting demands for scientists both for teaching and for research, we will enter the postwar period with a serious deficit in our trained scientific personnel.”
—Vannevar Bush, director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development
“Our national welfare, our defense, our standard of living could all be jeopardized by the mismanagement of this supply and demand problem in the field of trained creative intelligence.”
—James Killian, president of MIT
“[In the next 5 years], the expected demand for engineers will exceed not only the supply coming from American engineering schools, but also the combined supply from the United States and foreign countries, according to the [Engineering Manpower Commission] estimates.”
—John W. Graham Jr., president of Clarkson College of Technology
“The electronics and information technology industries will be short more than 100 000 electrical and computer science engineers over the next five years.”
—American Electronics Association
“Already spot shortages exist in some science fields in the United States, and unless dramatic changes are made in the way we educate all of our students, including our most talented, the shortages will increase.”
—U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement
“U.S. companies face a severe shortfall of scientists and engineers with expertise to develop the next generation of breakthroughs.”
—Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft
“There is a skills gap in this country—for every unemployed person in the United States, there are two STEM job postings. The gap will only widen if we don’t engage now to address STEM education at the elementary and high school levels.”
—Richard K. Templeton, chairman, president, and CEO of Texas Instruments
That all sounds pretty good, right? We’ve all made good life decisions by choosing engineering! We can just sail through life and get a good job and money and women (or men) will fawn over us and want to do wonderfully fun things with our genitals! Right. Well, hold on to that thought.
So, in no particular order, here are the things I wish I knew BEFORE I did my first co-op work term.
Costs. $700 per semester, right? Well, sortof. But that’s just part of the story (ooh, is this going to be a common theme? I can’t wait to find out)! My last co-op work term had fees totalling $1212. For one semester (4 months). Sure, only $688.50 of that was the co-op fee. But there were also all of the other UBC mandatory fees, because you are “still a full-time student.” Athletics & Recreation fee. CFS fee (fuck CFS BTW too, don’t get me started. NOT CFES, they are awesome!). Dental fee. Medical fee. Media fund. Professional activities fund fee. Student union fee. I think I got my upass fee refunded, but can’t remember for sure. Anyways. Basically double what they said it would be. My total cost for 2 terms was right around $2000 or so. The expected response to this of “well, a co-op student is considered a full time student, so it should come as no surprise that you are assessed standard university fees, that’s not the co-op department’s fault” is a cop out and everyone involved knows it.
Time commitments. As a second (or third) year, you are probably well aware of just how busy you will be this year, especially around midterms (hint: it doesn’t get any easier. Ever. Until you graduate). Well, co-op makes you jump through all sorts of hoops (and pay money!) to just “qualify” to join the program or some such thing. Guess what? Most of the work shows up right around when you will be in the middle of midterms. So that’s fun. If I remember correctly, it’s a good ~8ish hours of stuff you have to slog through, some of it videos that you can’t skip through because they test you about the most random, mostly irrelevant shit that is contained in them. That’s a lot of time that you can’t otherwise spend procrastinating or playing video games or whatever you will be doing instead of the studying you should be doing. Less procrastinating time is never good.
Supposedly you get assistance from the co-op director before you start your job search. Others might have different experience, but I got basically none. They supposedly review your resume and give you suggestions, but I never got any feedback at all. We did one mock interview and my feedback was basically “sounds good.” SO HELP! MUCH APPRECIATE!
You have to write reports… That’s how they justify charging you through the nose for the program, and having you registered as a full-time student. So that means at least someone reads the reports, right? Lol, wut? Silly engineering student.
You will get a “site visit” from the director. Well, for a very broad definition of “site visit,” yes. Mine was a phone call. About a 10 minute one. In which I was asked a number of questions that showed that the director had not read my report, and actually had basically no idea what I was doing in my job.
You get the Co-op designation on your diploma! True. But, they forget to mention that exactly no one ever will care or most likely even notice.
Your co-op hours count towards your P.Eng! This is also true, and the main reason I put up with all the rest of the crap. HOWEVER – hours you work in the field under a professional engineer count towards your P.Eng EVEN IF you are not in a registered co-op program.
I’m going to throw in a little note here about Experience vs GPA. Employers for the most part don’t give a damn about your GPA, especially after your first job. You will be much more employable if you have some job experience under your belt when you grad. Most employers will take someone with acceptable grades (don’t fail too much shit, that’s just dumb) and good work experience than a wetbag with no experience and a 4.0. If you can show you have some kind of social skills that don’t involve a keyboard, you’re way ahead of the game.
Now that you’re back, who do I think co-op is good for?
- Have never built a resume
- Have never had/looked for a job
- Have no interview experience
- Aren’t paying for it (Go go bank of mom!)
- Don’t know what kind of jobs there are / don’t know what industry you want to go into / don’t want to put in the effort to do your own research
- Are lazy (this isn’t a value judgement, it just is what it is. Co-op spoon-feeds you most stuff they “teach” you) and you don’t want to figure it out on your own
- People who are on student loans, want/need the extra work experience, and absolutely do not want to have to think about paying them until after they grad.
Now, who isn’t co-op good for?
- Already have a good resume
- Are experienced in job hunting
- Know how to interview well
- Are concerned with cost
- Know what industry you want to go into / have a line on a job/industry
- Are self-motivated (you can use this as a selling point in interviews – decided not to do official co-op because you wanted challenge of doing it on your own)
Sometimes, there are jobs on the co-op database that aren’t posted elsewhere (some of them are crap – $12/hr), but many jobs are concurrently posted online as well – many employers don’t want to limit themselves to people only in co-op programs, as they know that many students won’t be in co-op, and a number of schools don’t even offer official co-op as an option.
How do you describe engineering in one word? Close enough.
Now, engineers like numbers – so let’s play with some numbers.
- $1000 avg co-op fees per semester, plus inflation = $5000 (we like round numbers)
- $3k average monthly salary (more in some industries, less in others – O&G first term was $4500)
- No failing courses – adds an extra year no matter what and messes up all the numbers
- You can find an engineering job (no promises with co-op, or non-co-op)
- All numbers are at the end of 5 years from your commencement date
Option 1: Do co-op. Graduate in 5 years instead of 4. ~$5000 cost (say avg $900 x 5 terms, plus other fees etc, we like round numbers.), $60k in salary (assume $3k/month) during work terms. $55k take home, 20 months job experience, 12 months towards P.Eng after 5 years.
Option 2: No co-op, do co-op schedule. Graduate in 5 years instead of 4. $60k in salary (assume $3k/month) during work terms. $60k take home, 20 months job experience, 12 months towards P.Eng after 5 years.
Option 3: No co-op. Graduate in 4 years. $24k in salary (assume $3k/month) during summers. $24k + $60k average starting salary = $84k take home, 20 months towards P.Eng.
Option 1 costs $29k vs Option 3, but includes an extra full year job experience and four extra months towards P.Eng. Option 2 saves an extra $5k on top of Option 1. Option 3 has the highest potential cash return over 5 years, but least job experience at grad.
Employers like job experience. I wouldn’t consider option 3 unless you have family or other connections for getting a job, but that’s just my opinion.
Those quotes I posted at the beginning of the article? We’ve all seen quotes like these ones fairly frequently. Take a good guess at what year(s) they were all from. In order, they were from: 1934, 1945, 1954, 1970, 1983, 1993, 2008 and 2013.
Tell me, what do every one of the people or orgs quoted on this list have in common? They all profit from an oversupply of engineers. The people who profit from an oversupply of engineers have been complaining about engineering shortages since the 1930s. If engineers were really in such short supply, salaries would go up much more than they have (have been pretty close to inflation +/- for past 20 years – still better than the average joe by a long shot). Don’t get me wrong, this is a great career path. But the world is not your oyster, and little is going to be handed to you on a silver platter.
My advice (which is worth exactly what you paid for it):
- If you have a family connection or other assured job when you grad (why are you even considering co-op?), take option 3. Extra job experience isn’t as important (still do extra cirriculars), get the degree done and get making the money.
- If you have job hunting experience, or are comfortable learning on your own (there’s lots of good information out there, online and otherwise) go option 2.
- If you don’t have job hunting experience, don’t want to try to figure it out on your own, want basic info spoon-fed to you, don’t care about the extra cost, do co-op.
In Canada in 2006, only 29% of engineering grads worked as engineers. Total of 42% if you include management. ~20% were employed in jobs they were overqualified for (technicians, trades, etc) – network the shit out of your life. Join clubs, organizations, get out there.
General job tips:
- Excel, Excel, Excel – it will probably be the second thing you boot up after walking into the office
- Get outside the classroom, work where you actually build things (GNCTR/Mechatronics club)
- Leadership – EUS looks good on your resume
- If you take a position like this, do your damnedest to do a good job. Don’t just coast because it looks good on your resume and you don’t care. Don’t be a dickbag like this. People will talk and it will hurt you later.
- Moar Excel!
- GPA vs Experience holds true for extra-curriculars as well.
- HR looks for purple squirrels – the “perfect ideal fit” for a position. They might be willing to settle for YOU instead.
- Did I mention Excel?
- Grammar/spelling are very important. If you can’t handle those little details when trying to get a job, you probably won’t bother in your job (or that’s how they think)
- Highlight numbers whenever possible (eg: I handled 500 calls per minute as a phone sex operator!) – not applicable to all jobs/industries but do what you can
- Dress for the job you want
- Be prepared, research the company/industry
Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin: “In my position as CEO of a firm employing over 80 000 engineers, I can testify that most were excellent engineers. But the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.”
So-called “soft” skills – interacting with people, communicating your ideas to the proles, generally being a human being instead of a robot – are all more important than your GPA. Try to keep that in mind when you are making decisions about your future.
This is just as true as when I originally drafted these points in 2013. And maybe even more so now. With oil currently hovering around $40, there aren’t a lot of eng jobs to be had, in any industry. A quick survey of my friends group suggests that about half of the people who graduated this last year (including a couple people with almost perfect GPA but little real-world experience) still have not found jobs. Some of the ones that have, got them far outside their desired industries and/or in locations or countries they would not normally have considered. Some have decided to travel until this all blows over so they have a good explanation for taking the time off other than “sitting on the couch.”
I’m terrified of what the job market is going to look like when I graduate, and doing everything I can to put myself in the best position possible for when I get out. That means starting my own company and trying to grab my own slice of the pie. Do whatever works for you.