From being a less fancied branch of study some years ago, civil engineering is back in the spotlight. J. S. BABLU finds out why the tide has turned in favour of this engineering branch.
Civil engineering has staged a vigorous comeback in terms of its popularity as a branch of study at the undergraduate level after being pushed out of the limelight for many years. This gain in popularity in a large measure can be attributed to the boom in construction across the country.
Six or seven years back, many students were reluctant to take up civil engineering because the general feeling was that it offered ‘dim prospects’ in career terms.
Also, before liberalisation, the government sector—be it government departments or government engineering colleges—were the only options for the majority of B.Tech. civil engineers. But after liberalisation and with the construction boom, the scenario has changed.
Kuncheria P. Isaac, principal, Wayanad Engineering College, and former professor in civil engineering, College of Engineering Thiruvananthapuram, says the better prospects for civil engineering students began three to four years ago. “The salaries of civil engineering students have also increased over the years. I think in five years, civil engineers and engineers in IT field will be drawing almost similar salaries,” he says.
The B.Tech. civil students are much sought after by construction companies during placements. A look at the placement details of the National Institute of Technology Calicut (NIT-C) during the last three years itself points to the rise in demand for civil engineers. While 89 per cent of B.Tech. civil engineering students was placed in 2005-06, the corresponding figure was 100 per cent in 2006-07 and 2007-08. The average salary was Rs.4.35 lakh per annum in 2007-08 with 25 out of the 48 eligible civil engineering students getting offers for more than one job. A total of 48 students got 73 job offers, nearly 1.5 jobs per student. All the students were placed in core jobs—in construction and similar companies. Out of the 102 companies that visited the campus for recruitment, 20 were civil engineering companies.
At the M.Tech. level, there are four programmes, M.Tech in structural engineering; traffic and transportation planning; offshore structures; and environmental geo-technology. For the first three programmes, placements in 2006-07 and 2007-08, have been cent per cent or more than 90 per cent. M.Tech. environmental geo-technology was started in 2006 and nearly 50 per cent of the first batch of students who became eligible for placement in 2007-08 got job offers.
P.N.H. Kumar, who studied M.Tech. offshore structures, got an offer of Rs.11.4 lakh per annum from J.Ray McDermott Middle East International during the placements for 2007-08. He is to be based in Dubai. This was the highest offer for any student of NIT-C that placement season.
Civil engineering students are much in demand now, says T.K. Suresh Babu, professor (training and placement), Department of Training and Placement, NIT-C. “The only difference between a student of civil engineering and another branch will be that the former would not be getting a high salary at the entry level. A two year experience will help them to get good salaries,” he points out.
The companies in the civil engineering area that came for recruitment at NIT-C include Indian Oil, DLF, Maytas, Gammon India, Larson & Toubro, GS Engineering, LEA Associates and IOTL, to name a few. A number of companies, including Chappos and Condur Builders, recruited students from NIT-C for jobs in the Gulf countries.
The students at NIT-C found jobs in diverse areas such as designing, structural analysis, road and town planning, special economic management (SEZ) and real estate construction. They were appointed as structural engineers, construction engineers and site engineers among others.
But salaries have undergone a sea change. “A civil engineering graduate gets a starting salary of Rs.18,000 to Rs.20,000 now,” observes K.V. Leela , principal, Government Engineering College, West Hill, Kozhikode.
Shabin K. Muhammed, CEO of Kozhkode-based Cubix Builders, says that when he passed out of NIT-C in 2003, the remuneration he and his friends got was just Rs.6,000. “Now, it is almost Rs.20,000. Freshers may get up to Rs.80,000 abroad,” he says. Mr. Muhammed points out that a civil engineer with two years’ experience could get up to Rs.1.5 to Rs.2 lakh.
The minimum salary a B.Tech. civil engineering student at NIT-C was offered was Rs.2.2 lakh per annum, while the highest was Rs.7.2 lakh during the placements for 2007-08.
V. Mustafa, professor and head of the Department of Civil Engineering, NIT-C, says that NIT-C has been attracting high ranking students for civil engineering in the last two years.
The number of B.Tech. civil engineering students passing out of engineering colleges are not sufficient to meet local demands. The construction companies in the State are feeling the pinch as they are not getting qualified hands. K.P. Noushad, director, Hi-lite Builders, says that there is a shortage of B.Tech. civil engineers. “The situation is so alarming that we recruit freshers and train them. We talk to their family and make them work with us for at least three years. Also, it is very difficult to get people with two to three years experience,” he says. He points out that the problem started with the IT boom and the boom in construction in the Gulf countries.
Several ads are appearing in newspapers offering jobs to civil engineers. R.K. Ramesh, an architect based in Kozhikode, agrees with Mr. Noushad’s views. He says that even B.Tech. fresh pass-outs do no longer stay put and are going to the Gulf and other countries because of the increasing opportunities. “Some years ago, the salary was similar to that of a clerk, but now the salary levels are increasing,” he observes.
K.V. Leela laments that her college finds it difficult to find guest lecturers for civil engineering.
Kuncheria P. Isaac says only a few of the new-generation engineering colleges in the State are offering civil engineering courses. “I think only 20 per cent of these new colleges are starting civil engineering courses, leading to a shortage of B.Tech. pass-out students in civil engineering,” he observed.
Opportunities are aplenty for higher studies also, which also has many takers. Dr. N. Ganesan, professor and former head of the Department of Civil Engineering, NIT-C, says one could go for M.Tech. or MS abroad after B.Tech. Students who have passed both B.Tech. and M.Tech. are appointed as consultants in construction industry. A structural consultant should have higher qualifications.
Entrepreneurship is another area where civil engineers could try their hand. Shabin, a B.Tech. civil engineering holder from NIT-C, says that he along with four others—another civil engineering graduate and three B.Arch. holders, who all passed out in 2003 from NIT-C—started DE Inc under the Technology Business Incubator facility, which got transformed into Cubix Builders later. He however says he and his friends, who all come from families without any business background, faced tough times during their entrepreneurship phase.
Many in academics and industry think that the U.S. economic meltdown has not affected the domestic construction industry for the time being. The boom would continue at least for a year or so. And the huge investment in infrastructure around the world continues to throw up new opportunities for civil engineers.