Engineering Student Market Surges

February 18, 2005
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FLINT — Kettering University is experiencing a significant increase in employer demand for co-op students in general, and for co-op students majoring in engineering and information technology in particular.

Records for the last six months of 2004 show a 60 percent increase in the number of new employers seeking to take on co-op students, compared with the last six months of 2003.

Tamara Loud, Kettering's executive director of Cooperative Education and Career Services, furnished the information to the Business Journal.

More specifically, Loud pointed out that the number of co-op positions available in mechanical engineering has jumped 100 percent.

Too, she said the availability of industrial engineering co-op jobs has risen 90 percent and the availability of industrial engineering co-op positions has increased 55 percent.

Kettering is one of only a handful of educational institutions in the country offering professional co-op programs where students spend their four years of college alternating every three months between attending classes on campus and working full-time for co-op employers. The coupling of classroom work with practical industrial experience is intended to provide students with early professional development.

Bob Nichols, vice president of corporate relations and enrollment, attributes some of the increase to new job creation. In fact, an increase in hiring has been reported at college career fairs across the nation.

"We've done some benchmarking that shows the job market is improving across the country," he said "Businesses have been kind of holding off on hiring and all of a sudden they have some real needs."

Loud said Kettering has seen "tremendous" growth across the board in terms of co-op placements, including Michigan placements. She said co-op placements for freshmen are 27 percent higher in West Michigan than a year ago and co-op student placements in the Grand Rapids area are up 10 percent.

"We really believe West Michigan is a growth area for us, and that there are some very exciting things going on in Grand Rapids that are going to allow our partnerships to just continue to expand," she added.

More companies appear to be warming to the idea of co-op partnerships. Nichols sees the interest growing particularly among large companies with multiple locations. He said Kettering, for instance, had done very little business with Motorola in the past, usually just one co-op student per year, if that.

"Now they're looking at multiple location placements. They're talking about international programs where we have exchange and, perhaps, partnering with Chinese universities," he said. "In a lot of federal government agencies, like the CIA, and in some of the labs, like Sandia National Laboratories and Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, the growth has been phenomenal. Those are the kinds of things we're seeing."

Mechanical, electrical and computer engineering are three of the university's most popular areas of study. It also offers industrial and environmental engineering.

"Two years ago you couldn't give away an electrical engineer or a computer engineer. They just weren't hiring," said Carmon Liversedge, cooperative education manager. "Now the demand has just reversed entirely."

Liversedge's primary area of focus is West Michigan. He said the growth in the Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon county areas has been "phenomenal."

"We have seen a real rise in electrical engineering, computer science, computer engineering and information technology — the high tech stuff. That's a nice mix because Kent County is a manufacturing mecca to begin with."

He pointed out that a year ago he was working with 56 co-op employers in West Michigan — half of them in the Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon — and today he's working with 69. And the 20 percent growth in co-op employers isn't just coming from one sector, Liversedge stressed. He gave as examples Alticor Inc. and Peninsular Technologies, both of which hired two Kettering technology students this year.

"You don't get much different from that. Alticor is global and Peninsular Technologies has two full-time people. The audience is broad and they're given to addressing different needs within each of those industry sectors."

He said there's interest in some of the new areas the university is delving into, such as the diversified area of biotechnology. Stryker is a major Kettering co-op employer now and it does a lot of work in the medical device area.

Liversedge estimates about two-thirds of co-op partners are employers that have either heard about the co-op program through someone or have visited Kettering's Web site. Of the remaining one-third, half are referred by students and half Liversedge signs up through his own marketing efforts.

Kettering grew out of the original General Motors Institute, and GM is still the university's largest co-op partner, currently employing 270 Kettering students. UPS is the school's second largest partner, with 70 Kettering students on board, many of whom are majoring either in industrial or mechanical engineering.

"In fact, we don't have enough students to fill their available placements right now. UPS wants them all over the country and there are some spots where we don't have enough students, so we're working trying to fill that," he said.    

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