Black engineers conference will discuss jobs and the economy.

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While many are just trying to hold onto their jobs, Dallas engineer Julius Hudson and his colleagues will be spending the weekend in Tulsa trying to get better at theirs.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday more than 500 people are expected at the Marriott Southern Hills hotel for the regional gathering of the National Society of Black Engineers, a group that encompasses more than 16 professional fields and forms the backbone of some industries such as energy, manufacturing and technology.

But this year’s conference is a stark difference from a year ago, when engineers had their pick of dozens of jobs in practically any field.

This year the demand for engineers has shrank as firms have frozen positions and other some companies have either laid off entire teams of engineers or gone out of business.

Too further the pain for engineers, a report released Wednesday by two labor market professors at Rutgers University in New Jersey showed American colleges graduate more engineers than there are jobs.

“It’s important to keep an edge,” said Hudson, the professional development chair for the conference. “When you are in a specific field with certifications and changing knowledge, you need to stay updated.”

Many participants at this year’s conference are college students wanting to make connections with potential employers; others are professionals trying to stay abreast of trends in their fields.

The region covers Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and much of the rest of the Midwest.

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professionals, conference organizers are hosting certifications sessions for computer networking systems, managing projects, as well as several workshops on management and entrepreneurial skills.

“In the past we’ve focused on the just the technical aspect of engineering, but we also want to do some training in the management segment,” Hudson said.

Other sessions at the conference include workshops on sustainable transportation, the future of energy and working with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

One of the keynote speakers will be Samuel Combs III. A longtime executive of Tulsa-based ONEOK Inc., Combs retired earlier this year as president of ONEOK Distribution Cos.

Black Enterprise magazine in February listed Combs as one of the 75 most powerful African-American business leaders in the U.S.

With the economy causing companies to cut back, organizers are reporting a drop in donations for this year’s event. Conference chairman Darron Lumpkin also said the event is expected to draw about 30 percent fewer participants than last year, when it was held in Dallas.

“(The economy) has a lot of impact,” Lampkin said.

Lampkin, a mechanical engineer who designs aircraft parts, said tough times financial should encourage engineers to network, get more training and unite instead of drifting apart.

“In hard times people divide and separate, but this is when they need to come together,” he said.


Copyright (c) 2009, Tulsa World, Okla. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.