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If you're a soon-to-be graduating engineer, you'll be happy to know that there are still plenty of jobs out there for you, despite the ailing economy. That said, flexibility and specialization are increasingly becoming essential requirements for engineers who want to advance their careers quickly. Fortunately, there's more than one way to make your career take off

Take MTS Allstream, one of Canada's leading national communications solution providers, for example. Mike Strople, vice president of technology development, says his company recruits electrical and computer science graduates for positions that blend both disciplines.

"Not that long ago you had to choose whether you wanted to be in computer science or an electrical engineer. Computer engineering comes in the middle blending more of the software side with more of a classic electrical engineering program," says Strople. "I think that's healthy. It's the evolution of the field of engineering."

MTS Allstream also looks for people skilled in the somewhat more specialized degree of telecommunications engineering, which, along with electronics, deals with devices that use small amounts of electrical energy to analyze, transmit and store information. So, when MTS Allstream is looking for a new grad they are looking for someone who has a basic understanding of engineering, complimented by technological skills.

That said, there's still hope for grads who lack telecommunications training. "The fundamentals of what we do are really learned on the job," Strople says. "So I don't like to say we are not interested if you are not a telecommunications engineer. Anyone in that electrical, computer science area is the right candidate for the kind of hiring we do."

Grads who want to specialize can pursue graduate studies in biomedical engineering, which applies engineering principles and technologies to healthcare.

According to Dr Ezra Kwok, the director of the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program at the University of British Columbia, students who are in a biomedical engineering program should have a strong foundation in engineering and can develop their skills at an advanced level so that they can be more employable. "It's an advancing field and within it one can find many fields like bioinformatics and nanotechnology," says Kwok, adding how nanotechnology can be used in many fields and is not exclusive to biomedical engineering.

At the University of Alberta, bioinformatics instructor Warren Gallin says bioinformatics is about merging two fields: computers (for rapid, high volume data analysis and storage) with biology. It relates to analyzing and manipulating biological data to discover new drugs and treatments.

"There's usually a high demand for bioinformatics engineers in drug companies, and there should be an increasing need for them in government public administration in terms of maintaining records and doing analyses on environmental issues," Gallin says.

The University of Waterloo offers a nanotechnology engineering program, which according to Andrew Tesla, commercial representative from VibroSystM, based in Longueuil, QC, is a newer field in engineering. "Nanotechnology entails the construction or use of atomic level molecules to facilitate some function. It could consist of entering the body's blood stream to attack a carcinogen or cancerous tumor, or to attack a condition that may exist in the body," says Tesla.

He adds that companies like VibroSystM, which offers integrated solutions for the monitoring, diagnostics and protection of large rotating machines, such as hydro generators, turbo generators and large electric motors, benefit from hiring nanotechnology engineers.

According to Tesla, companies like VibroSystM are also interested in mechatronics engineers, who understand both the electrical and mechanical aspects of sensors.

Says Professor Amir Khajepour for the University of Waterloo's department of mechanical and mechatronics engineering (the only accredited mechatronics program in Canada): "A mechatronics engineer knows something about mechanical and electrical systems and sensors. A robot is a good example. Think of any automatic machine used in manufacturing companies. Inspection line machines work based on the input they get from sensors," says Khajepour.

One of Khajepour's mechatronics engineering students, Matt Rendall, who is currently enrolled in a masters of business, entrepreneurship and technology graduate program at the University of Waterloo, worked at six different companies, VibroSystM being one, while still an undergraduate.

"The co-op program was the biggest selling point for me. I have a solid r├®sum├® with two years of real world industrial experience under my belt," says Rendall, who plans to start his own company after graduation. jp

Photo: Thiel Andrzej/Thinkstock