School to Work: Episode 3 Engineering Student

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Interview with Stephan Acolatse, Engineering Student

IMG_0594 (1)Curious about pursuing a career in engineering?

Stephan Acolatse, a civil engineering student at Concordia, recently sat down with us to speak about his school-to-work trajectory as he prepares to graduate and enter the world of work.

As a first generation university student, Stephan has some great insight to share on life as an engineering student, what steps he’s taken to prepare himself for the workforce, and the lessons that he’s learned along the way.

Listen here to the full interview Podcast:

Don’t have time to listen to the full Podcast?

Here are a few excerpts from my interview with Stephan:

L: What drew you towards a career in civil engineering?

S: Originally, civil engineering wasn’t my main focus […] I went to Africa in 2006, and Europe is where we stayed for a bit and I saw a lot of structures, and I think that’s what motivated me to kind of have a hand in that.  And then when we went to Africa, we saw that there is a lot of room for development… structural development so I think that also motivated me to go into civil engineering.  

L: What kind of characteristics do you think an engineering student should possess?

S: You want to be interested.  You want to have that problem solving [ability and] curiosity about you, but also you obviously have to be strong in some science subjects – physics and math are very important.  You need be able to think critically and think fast.

Stephan’s Career Exploration Tips:

  • Start as soon as you can: “Students should start as soon as they can.  There’s a lot of information available but it’s kind of hard to find and there’s no one to really, like push you…”
  • Use resources available to you on campus: “There’s a Career Advancement and Planning Service on the Concordia portal, which is really helpful.   There’s a lot of jobs on there.”
  • Speak with your professors:  “They have a lot of experience obviously. Speaking to professors is a really good thing.”
  • Network, network, network: “You want to network a lot. Networking is huge.”


IMG_0580 (1)L
: You mentioned that you and your brother are the first in your family to go to university. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in terms of that?

EDIT IMG_0578S: Our parents came here [from Ghana] to give us the opportunity to acquire a higher education.  We’re really grateful to have been given the opportunity to do this. It is a little stressful because I feel that there is a lot of pressure on us as first-generation university students but at the same time, it’s not unreasonable [and] it’s very generous of them.  They’re not there to always guide us so sometimes they do expect things that are kind of unattainable but we always do our best, and I think that’s the most they can expect and it’s the best we can offer.

“It is a little stressful because I feel that there is a lot of pressure on us as first-generation university students.”

L: In terms of the job market right now for civil engineering, do you know what job opportunities are like?

S: I spent quite a bit of time doing some career exploration. I didn’t start until maybe my second or third year… more like my third year, I went to a lot of career fairs here at Concordia and I felt that a lot of the jobs were for software engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering.  There wasn’t that much for civil [engineering]. Actually I volunteered one time at a career fair and they gave us a list of jobs, of employers, and the discipline that they’re looking for, and I would say out of maybe 30, two of them were for civil engineering.  So the market isn’t very good right now, but I’ve been told that it’s kind of like a rollercoaster – the demand kind of goes up and down, so right now we’re kind of at a low point but hopefully in the future, the civil engineering demand will go up.

Stephan’s career advice to our viewers:

“The best piece of career advice that I’ve ever received was from a professor at Concordia, and basically he gave a lecture on career development and I guess the moral was just to network. He stressed the importance of networking and to be honest that’s the number one thing – it’s about who you know and your connections, so if I had to give advice to anyone else, it would be just to try to get your name out there, try to get as many contacts. There’s no reason for you not to put your foot in the door, or go to a conference, or volunteer somewhere and meet people, shake people’s hands.”

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Image source: https://twitter.com/jcasap


L: In terms of looking back now that you’re about to graduate, is there any expectation that you had before beginning this whole process that now has completely changed for you?

S: I think a lot of the expectations were kind of brought up from my parents, more than anything. They thought once you get your university degree, you’ll find a job right away […] I can’t say that isn’t true because I did find work because I went and pursued higher education [but] coming into university, we don’t value work experience as much as our employers do.  I think we assume that we’re just going to get these high grades and do well during our university career, and get a job but I think that work experience is almost more valuable at times than your degree.

“I think that work experience is almost more valuable at times than your degree.”

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Interested in a program or career in Civil Engineering?

Visit the Government of Canada Job Bank website for more information on what recent graduates across Canada are doing with their degrees.

Here are some quick stats (2011-2013) from their website:

  • 90.59% of recent Civil Engineering graduates are employed
  • Earning range is between $54,889 – $78,287 with $66,313 being the median
  • 67.84% of graduates are in jobs that are closely related to their field of study
  • 84.95% would choose this field again

Food for thought:

How can youth better prepare themselves for the world of work?  Knowing what is out there in terms of career opportunities and what measures are necessary to reach them are definitely important steps to take.  Career exploration as a student is critical in terms of finding out what interests you, what fields aligns well with your skills and abilities, as well as what options may be available to you upon graduation.  This may mean spending some time traveling, gaining life experience, speaking with professors or professionals in your field, attending career fairs and events, etc.  It is equally as important to think about what you will need to do to find relevant employment in your chosen field, whether this be acquiring related experience, or looking for networking and mentorship opportunities. As we learned from speaking with Stephan, starting your career exploration and preparation early on can lead to finding meaningful and fulfilling employment once you graduate.

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A very big thank you to Stephan for sharing his story with us!

Interested in getting involved in this project?

We’d love to hear from other students or graduates who have something to say about their education and career experiences.

Write to lindsay@roadtoemployment.ca to get in touch.

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