So, Where Are the Jobs? By Walter Okitsu, PE

This is a guest post by Walter Okitsu.

Walter Okitsu, PEWalter Okitsu is Vice President of the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Western District, which includes the 13 western states and US Pacific territories. He is a principal at KOA Corporation, headquartered in Monterey Park. He is licensed in traffic engineering and civil engineering in California, and is a certified Professional Traffic Operations Engineer and Professional Transportation Planner.

By Walter Okitsu, PE

ITE Western District and its sections have done a good job getting students interested and involved with transportation engineering. Now that we’ve grabbed your attention, you may be wondering, where are the jobs? If you’re graduating soon, or already have, you’re aware these are tough times for hiring. It’s the toughest I’ve seen since the early 1980’s.

Where to look for jobs? Frankly, I don’t know. Even if I knew and announced it here, that site would be overloaded with applicants. Job announcements from tend to be for people at the senior level. That’s due to US demographics: baby boomers are retiring and need to be replaced. Unfortunately job openings are slow in filtering down to the entry level. The good news is openings will eventually occur, if you can survive the next few years. In conditions like this, it’s best to seek out job opportunities before they are advertised.

What are the hot fields in transportation? Your guess is as good as mine. You being 30 years younger than me, your guess is more important than mine. There will always be jobs in transportation, but you should seriously question whether we’ll always be needing new roads and bridges. Anticipate what new technology will be coming, but hedge your bet and get trained in multiple specialties. A decade ago, I would have bet we’d be telecommuting from home while in our pajamas by now, with delivering groceries. I’d have bet wrong.

I seem to be asking more questions than answering, aren’t I? The point is jobs are scarce at the entry level, and you should develop your own plan, preferably different from what everybody else is doing.

Tom Warne, our keynote speaker at the ITE Western District annual meeting last summer inAnchorage, had this advice: Be prepared to move. That might be a new idea for those of us raised inSouthern California, but it makes sense. I am not aware of any place begging for transportation engineers, although I hearNorth Dakotais doing well. You probably don’t have a big home mortgage to tie you down. If you have a college sweetheart, you’ll have to sort that out.

Avoid a hole in your resume. It’s better to show, say, volunteer work inBotswanathan to have a hole in your resume. Besides, maybe a prospective employer reading your resume also did volunteer work inBotswanaand you’d score points.

Getting an unpaid internship is far better than nothing, although it might worsen a financial hardship. It’s also harder to get an unpaid internship than you’d think. Many employers consider having unpaid interns a distraction, and other employees may not be amenable to having someone doing their work for free.

Graduate school is an excellent idea. Having at least a Master’s degree is a big help in our profession. If you can’t find a job, you might as well pursue more education if you can afford it. However, a lot of your colleagues are thinking this way, and as a result, it’s hard to get into graduate school these days. If you have an inkling to get into grad school, start planning now.

By all means become an Engineering-in-Training immediately. Don’t postpone until later. Maybe you’ve decided you’d rather be an actor than an engineer; fine, but pass the FE exam first, just in case the acting thing doesn’t work out.

Finally, get your face out there. Show up at ITE meetings attended by working professionals at the chapter, section or district level. Split up. Avoid sitting at the student tables at the meetings. Don’t come in T-shirt and shorts. (Those UCLA students — what were they thinking?)  After the meetings, maintain contact with professionals you’ve met. You’ll have to balance between annoying the professionals and being forgotten, but if you do nothing, you’ll be forgotten. Also maintain contact with other students. In one sense, they could be your competitors for limited job openings, but they could also pull you in if they find a spot for themselves. If you have the opportunity, do the same for them. One bet I’m counting on is that eventually we’ll all be working together.

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