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Competition for black talent

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Martin Desmarais
Competition for black talent
The career fair floor at the National Society of Black Engineers national convention in Boston. (Photo: Martin Desmarais)

Gov. Charlie Baker and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey may have gotten all the news headlines surrounding last week’s National Society of Black Engineers national convention in Boston, but their talk about increasing business to minority-owned firms and trying to improve employee diversity was nothing new. The real story for the event’s attendees was the ability to get up close and personal with representatives from the world’s biggest engineering firms — a concrete accomplishment for some of the U.S.’s hottest young engineering talent.

Throughout the event, which ran from March 23-27 at the Boston Convention Center, attendees bumped shoulders with companies like Proctor & Gamble, Boeing and Cisco Systems, but it all culminated in Friday’s career fair with more than 200 companies chasing the kind of employees that NSBE boasts as members — engineering students and professionals.

“This is the biggest career fair I have ever been to,” said Phillip Braden, a 20-year old junior from the University of Arkansas, who is studying chemical engineering. “All these companies that you have heard of, and even companies you haven’t heard of, that work on products that we know of are here and are looking for more diverse candidates. It has been a great experience getting to know what companies are looking for out there.”

Author: Martin DesmaraisAudience members react to a company presentation at the career fair.

Valuable experience

Braden was attending his first NSBE convention, though he has attended regional events through his college chapter of the organization. Forty students from his chapter attended with him. He admitted that the end result many of his peers were looking for is a job or an internship, but even if that does not happen he stressed it is very valuable to have companies look at a resume and give feedback on what they are looking for.

He also said he was impressed with the high level of reps from the companies who were on hand, not just entry-level employees, but experienced, high-level employees that gave advice about how to prepare or guide your career to get where they are.

“It has been a pretty eye-opening experience and it has been great,” Braden added. “It has been a worthwhile trip for my career. They always talk about engineering and technology as the largest growing field in America right now and right here you can see that. There are so many companies looking for engineers, not just one type of engineers, all types of engineers as well.”

Being a chemical engineering student, Braden was most interested in sector giants like BP, Shell or Chevron, but the career fair floor was packed with booths from companies that are dream jobs for all kinds of aspiring engineers, such as Corning, Johnson & Johnson, Intel, 3M, IBM, Google, General Motors, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

Lines to talk to reps were commonly a dozen deep, but often double that. For most, it was a chance too good to pass up.

“It is a great opportunity for black students to be heard and be seen in a field that is predominantly Caucasian. I feel like this is a great opportunity to really let our voice be heard to say that we are just as capable no matter if we are minority or not,” said Amber Green, 19, a sophomore from Ohio University studying engineering technology.

This was her first NSBE convention, though she is a member, but she said she plans to come back, especially as she gets older and begins the job search in earnest. Seeing the amount of companies made her very excited about her future.

“It is very encouraging because these are huge companies you see every single day, you see Ford cars everywhere you go, you see Chrysler, you see P&G. You see commercials of all these things and here they are right here in front of you,” Green added. “The fact that they are here offering people jobs is really surreal, but it is a real blessing.”

Linking engineering industry leaders with young talent gets at the driving mission of the four-decade-old NSBE — provide the inspiration, education and connections needed for its 31,000 members to succeed as engineers and technology professionals. The group has 400 chapters around the world and has held an annual convention for 42 years. This year about 10,000 attended the Boston event, which featured networking, workshops, professional development and keynote speakers, in addition to the career fair.

Author: Martin DesmaraisAttendees meet with company reps at the NSBE career fair.

Career exposure

Nana Asiamah, a 32-year-old petroleum engineering graduate student from the University of Texas, Austin, was attending his second convention in as many years and is a member of the organization. He has worked as a process engineer for several years before returning to school and said he has used the conventions to help prepare him for entering back into the professional world.

“For most of us that are graduated or about to graduate we get a chance to get a feel of how the industry is,” Asiamah said. “Most people get a job coming to NSBE, so it is worth it.”

Thony St. Jean Jr., a senior at the New York Institute of Technology, called it “career suicide” to miss the convention.

The 31-year-old, who is studying electrical engineering and computer science, was in the military prior to starting college and said he became involved in NSBE as he started to look toward graduating and finding a job. His experience at the convention is unlike any he had before in this quest.

“I was able to, on the spot, get an interview,” Jean said. “You have instant gratification. You can actually talk to companies and you have people here that understand your field. Other fairs have been a whole bunch of HR reps — it wasn’t actual engineers that you get to talk to like here. It made it a lot more streamline to actually get an interview and understand if this will be a good fit for you and the company.”

NSBE also works hard to promote a future in engineering and technology through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for children and high school students. Weeks before the Boston convention, national organizers and Boston chapter members were hitting the streets to promote the event and connect with local schools. On Wednesday last week, the convention was free and open to the public with a special innovation fair targeted for younger students called Torch Fest. The fair showcased engineering and technology exhibits and hands-on displays of the types of things that engineers work on and create.

NSBE has an ambitious goal, which it calls its 2025 Strategic Plan — a goal of graduating 10,000 black engineers annually in the United States by 2025.

If anything, the companies courting the group, on hand throughout the convention and at the career fair, certainly suggest that many in the engineering industry would love to see this goal achieved.