There is Opportunity Amid Tough Times
by John Gagnon, promotional writer
Despite a dismal economy, the Michigan Tech Career Center has set a record in attracting employers to campus to recruit students.
Representatives from 290 companies are participating in Career Day today. The event is a meeting of minds: students tout their skills; companies, their opportunities for full-time positions, cooperative education programs and internships. Companies will staff tables at the Gates Tennis Center, the Varsity Gymnasium and the Multipurpose Room.
General Motors sends to campus a team of eight under the direction of Will Poirier.
"We are looking for work experience in the profession, strong leadership skills and strong communication skills, both written and verbal," Poirier says. "Typically, one person can't meet all the criteria. Tech graduates have all three in one package. They are very well rounded, and their retention rate is among the best of any campus we recruit from. It's a nice fit for GM."
Poirier, based in Warren, is a project manager in GM's information technology sector and the manager of GM's Michigan Tech Recruiting Team. He is a 1993 Tech grad who has been at GM 18 years and has been on the recruiting team for 13 years, eight years as leader.
"I've been doing this for a long time," Poirier says, which gives him a seasoned perspective on assessing talent. He says that GM likes to hire undergraduates for internships and co-operative education programs—and draw on that pool for full-time hires.
GM recruits from 30 institutions; Michigan Tech ranks sixth for number of hires.
Poirier addresses GM's hiring initiatives in light of the economic malaise: "We've been through this before in the 1980s and 1990s," he says, "and what we learned is that we can't completely stall the hiring of new talent. The technology in these new vehicles is so much more complicated, so much more sophisticated, that we continue to need to draw talent with the right skills."
Currently, he says, those are electrical engineering and controls.
Russell Louks, application technology supervisor, has worked at Ford for 23 years and has been recruiting at Tech for 17 years. He works in information technology at Ford's recently established IT Development Center in Houghton. Four of his colleagues from Dearborn join him at the career fair.
Ford's needs, he says, are in information technology and engineering.
High on the list of desirables? "We want people who have some sort of experience outside the classroom," Louks says.
Michigan Tech is one of only eight schools in the country where Ford Information Technology recruits.
"Michigan Tech has good students with the skills we're looking for. Tech's programs are technically sound, and they require that students do a lot of hands-on work. That means they come out of school with more real-world experience, compared to other programs that just emphasize academics."
"These are tough times," Louks continues, "but we experience turnover on a daily basis, and we have to replace the people who are retiring. We're not expanding, but we must maintain the talent pool."
Trisha Sokol is the manager of staffing in North America at Continental AG, a company based in Germany that has extensive automotive operations in the United States. Sokol is based in Auburn Hills and sends five recruiters to the career fair. The company is hiring domestically and internationally.
Domestically, the firm's immediate need is software engineering, and it will be recruiting students for internships in the coming year.
In addition, the firm has an international development program that offers "high potential" opportunities for two years of work in Germany, and then postings around the world. The international need is in mechanical engineering and materials science.
Tech is one of 14 educational institutions where Continental AG recruits.
The company recruits here because of what Sokol calls the "strong" engineering program and an overall "relevant" education.
"Some of our top talent, including our president, comes from Michigan Tech," Sokol says. "They are strong individuals with an excellent technical background."
As well, she adds, the Career Center staff does a good job of partnering with industry. "They want to know who we need and what we're looking for." Accordingly, Sokol says, Continental AG will continue to maintain a noticeable presence on campus.
In all, employers will conduct more than 4,000 interviews after the fair, according to Jim Turnquist, director of the Career Center. They are the result of a paramount need for engineers.
"The US," he says, "is graduating only about 70,000 engineers a year, and the demand is in excess of 100,000 engineers a year. So you have a huge demand and a short supply."
As well, industry's engineer corps is comprised of baby boomers who are concluding their careers. "They have to start replacing those people," Turnquist says, "and they have a lot of success hiring our people."
Tech students, he says, are well regarded by industry. "What we've been told by companies, the biggest thing about our graduates, is they are problem solvers. They're not afraid to get their hands dirty. They'll take on a job, see it through, and do well. They're smart, they're dependable, they're loyal, and they don't quit."
Turnquist estimates 60 to 70 percent of Tech undergraduates take advantage of co-ops, internships, or both.
As well, Tech's Enterprise Program gives students the opportunity to work for three years on real-world projects for industry sponsors. "Enterprise," Turnquist says, "is the next best thing to a co-op or internship. It's up there. It's valuable."
Overall, he says, Tech students take the career fair "very, very seriously."
"They're prepared for it," Turnquist says. "They get coached on crafting a good resume, and they practice mock interviews."
Turnquist has worked at the Career Center for 13 years. He likes the new crop of students, who, he says, are distinctive.
"There's an energy, a desire. They look for more out of a career than a job." A campus survey shows that Tech students also desire volunteer work and balance in their lives.