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Gene Cilento: Engineers drive American prosperity

Everywhere you turn, you read stories about job shortages and people being unemployed.

But you may not know that some industries can't find the employees they need.

Each year for the past seven years, the ManpowerGroup has asked employers to name which employees are most in demand. For all but one of those years, engineering has been at or near the top of the poll.

These numbers are in direct conflict with a recent report by an economist at West Liberty University, which states that, outside of computer engineering, all engineering degrees are experiencing a labor surplus.

Unfortunately, the West Liberty report looks only at employment opportunities in the state.

At West Virginia University, where I serve as Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, our responsibilities go beyond that.

We have the responsibility of educating our students and preparing them for their lives, wherever they choose to live them.

Thirty years ago, the National Academy of Engineering reports, the United States, Japan, and China, each educated the same number of engineers annually, about 70,000.

Today, across Asia more than 21 percent of students are graduating in engineering fields. Across Europe, that number is just under 12 percent.

In the United States, that number is 4.5 percent.

To advance our economy and our society, we need to create the next generation of technological innovations.

And for that, we need engineers.

According to U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, only 5 percent of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering, yet they are responsible for more than 50 percent of our sustained economic expansion.

This past academic year, representatives from more than 150 companies came to career fairs in the Statler College to actively recruit our students. More than 50 percent of these companies were located within a few hours' drive of the state of West Virginia, with one third coming from in state and nearby Pennsylvania.

I am proud to report that 87 percent of our students who engaged in a proper job search -  starting nine months or more before graduation - received offers of employment prior to graduation.

Our graduates were highly sought after in fields ranging from energy and mineral extraction and utilization to manufacturing to government and the military.

And while jobs are growing in traditional engineering fields, new avenues are opening for engineers in a variety of areas. The Statler College serves as the national research partner with the FBI in one such program - biometric systems - which maintains its Center of Excellence right here in Clarksburg.

Not only are our students finding jobs, they are finding well-paying jobs. Fox News recently visited our campus and reported that students graduating from our college with degrees in petroleum and natural gas engineering (one of only three ABET-accredited programs in the nation), for

example, are commanding starting salaries as high as $94,000.

The average starting salary for a graduate of our college this past academic year was nearly $64,000.

Educating these bright young minds to compete globally for high-tech jobs is critical to U.S. competitiveness. It is also critical to the economic future of West Virginia.

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the federal Land-Grant Act, West Virginia University and the Statler College remain committed to promoting access to higher education and applying research to meet the needs of West Virginians.

Cilento is Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University.



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