Newswire headlines scream that hiring is back in a big way on college campuses. So for our annual salary-survey issue, it seems appropriate to check out this thesis for new engineering grads. The schools we talked to report that prospects for engineers joining the workforce are indeed brighter than they have been in recent years, though some engineering disciplines are in hotter demand than others.

“We have seen a 20% increase in on-campus job interviews from last year,” says Georgia Tech Career Services Director Ralph Mobley. “In 2011, 64.2% of our engineering graduates said they had a job lined up by our May commencement. It is a little early to tell how that will go this year, but I think we will beat that figure based on interview activity.”

But more hiring hasn’t yet translated into bigger paychecks. “My overall sense is that salaries aren’t going up,” says Mobley. “The median salary in 2011 was $63,000. Though, if we have another year like this one, that figure is likely to rise.”

Mobley also says disciplines in the highest demand at Georgia Tech include chemical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science.

At the University of Texas at Austin, getting hired hasn’t been a problem for most new engineers even during the economic downturn, but most couldn’t afford to be choosy about employment. “Our low point for recruiting was during 2009 and 2010, but even then, our students were accommodated at about a 90% rate. They just didn’t have as many offers,” says U of T at Austin Career Center Director Michael Powell. “Last year recruiting went up about 20% across the board and students got more opportunities for full-time employment and internships. This year is similar, though the increase in recruiting visits isn’t as large.”

Powell says more than 94% of U of T at Austin engineering grads who wanted employment had found jobs six months after graduation last year, and he expects that percentage to rise a bit for the school’s 1,400 newly graduated engineers this year.

Finally, interesting statistics emerge from U of T at Austin’s tally of starting salaries for its 2010-11 graduates. The top earner was someone with an MS in engineering management who walked away with a salary of $150,000. The lowest was $38,000 for a postdoc position that went to a biomedical Ph.D. There was a tie for the highest BS-level salary: It was $105,000, earned by both an electrical engineer and a petroleum engineer.

A confirmation that these sorts of salaries aren’t out of the ordinary comes from Cornell University College of Engineering Career Services Mark Savage. “Computer-science majors can walk away with multiple offers,” he says. “A few have gotten six-figure salaries. On average, those graduates probably earn $15,000 more than those in other engineering areas.”

All in all, only 2% of Cornell’s 2011 graduating class of engineers (about 1,500) who wanted jobs were still looking six months after graduation. Savage calls hiring in the mechanical-engineering area “stable.” But he thinks hiring is “lagging” in civil engineering because many civil-engineering projects get funded by states, and many states have no money. “I think it will come back eventually because of infrastructure needs,” he says. But all things considered, “We are not seeing a lot of hiring anxiety among students,” he says. “It’s certainly nothing like what it was in 2009.”

— Leland Teschler, Editor

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.