Grads: Save Yourself, Start A Company

“Is it still hard to find a job?”

Professor Mike McCarthy politely answered, yes it is, very difficult; before I started shooting my mouth off I wanted to confirm my assumptions. I was the first to ask a question at last night’s UCI School of Engineering Career Night.  This pre-event audience was made up of alumni and special guests who would soon be mingling with the about-to-be graduates, coaching them on networking and other magic tricks related to finding a job.

The next question came with a barb, the recruiter from Boeing wanted to share that they’re looking for candidates with more programming experience than he was seeing in this mix. Then a student complained that the curriculum he dutifully followed left him poorly suited for the kinds of jobs that were available. The genie was out of the bottle.

Not news to the several professors surrounding Mike at the podium, but I could sense immediately that the School had been relying on big engineering companies to hire their graduates and everything I hear is that big companies are shedding jobs. What I’d read about was happening live, right before my eyes. These kids had few opportunities and the School had been slow to wake up to this change in the economy. Why hadn’t there been a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship?

All through the program, not one word was spoken about hanging out your own shingle. I was beginning to feel desperate for these students. At one point Mike asks, “how many are graduating next month?” Many hands are raised; he follows up with, “how many have jobs lined up?” Were there only two hands raised? Yikes.

Myself I’m traveling to many of the entrepreneurial hotspots around the world. Orange County doesn’t look like one. Last month at the ACA Annual Summit in Cambridge we were treated to day-long programs at MIT accelerators across the street from our hotel. A new incubator/accelerator had just opened on a Thursday and was hosting my bike ride group for lunch on a Sunday. (Look for my upcoming interview with Nancy Saucier, next in the queue.) My recent trip to Boulder had me thinking the place is boiling over with entrepreneurial fever.

I was seated at table 27 where I would dispense pearls of wisdom to the unfortunate students compelled to sit with me. Brandon was assigned as my escort, to get me to the right table. As we walked he told me he had specifically requested me because he was in the audience for my annual talk to Goran Matijasevic’s class: Entrepreneurship for Scientists and Engineers. Since there’s no way I could employ any of these students, all I could do is offer advice, and an invitation to be my guest at a Tech Coast Angels meeting. My prescription for UCI: increase these offerings on entrepreneurship and don’t rely on big employers.

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