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R.I. defense contractors struggle to recruit


A Governor's Workforce Board study published last month reported that defense industry employers are finding a lack of qualified engineers in the state. But despite a sixth of each class concentrating in engineering - and a suffering state economy where unemployment currently stands at 11 percent - defense sector employers rarely reach out to the University, and engineers often look elsewhere after graduation, some concentrators said.  

Engineering students at Brown said there are a myriad of reasons that students may not be going to work for these firms. A factor that several students mentioned is that engineers often look to continue their education after college. Though Dingyi Sun '12 said he is interested in going into defense contracting, he said he wants to "get the education portion of my life over with" and will pursue his PhD at Caltech next year.

"Defense is usually where I find the most innovation," he said.

Lawrence Larson, dean of the school of engineering, said numbers show that going on to graduate school after college is a popular option. While about a third of Brown engineers go into engineering firms when they graduate, another third move on to graduate schools of various types, and about one third go into finance, he said.

Though the study shows defense contractors are seeking to hire new engineers, the firms are not well known on campus. "Personally, I think there is a problem in getting defense contractors to come to our career fairs," Sun said. Other types of engineering companies, such as computer and electrical ones, often frequent career fairs, but defense companies are almost never present, he said.

Kelsey MacMillan '12, who is studying civil engineering, said she shares a similar sentiment. These types of firms "don't really come through Brown at all," she said, adding that "Brown just doesn't have a relationship (with them)."

Rick Brooks, executive director of the Governor's Workforce Board, said the organization is working to enhance both student interest and company outreach. He said it is important that these companies create connections with students while they are still undergraduates, by providing internships, research and other opportunities. This way, he said, students can see the "exciting work that's being done" within the companies, while companies will also have the opportunity to see the "caliber of students" and be more inspired to reach out to them.



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