The following letters are in response to a topic posted in a recent “Motion Monitor” eNewsletter: whether or not a shortage of engineers exists in the U.S.
The only ones who think there is an engineering shortage are HR people trying to keep to a budget and technical schools trying to get government subsidies. If there were a shortage of engineers, headhunters would be making money poaching qualified people from one company to another and salaries would be on the increase.
Instead, wages are flat and engineers are one of the first cuts when financials start to look bad. Corporate America thinks that all engineers are the same and that they can just plug one in whenever a project comes up. Their only fear is that the engineers will earn too much money.
Show me the money
I believe we have enough engineers now, but we may not later. Why invest in something that doesn't have a tangible return? There are plenty of engineers, but not at a bottom barrel price. Industry fired many engineers for various reasons. Next they reinvented the market and targeted lower-cost engineers. During that time, the engineers who couldn't make money in their original positions went into other careers.
Business has now come full circle and wants what they had back. I say, “Show me the money, and you will get it.” Business starts a PR campaign about poor U.S. engineering and how other countries are heads and shoulders above us, trying to play to the typical engineer's psyche. It's not working too well at their target price. Bottom line: Pay equitably and in a stable manner, just like doctors and lawyers are compensated, and business will get what it wants. Only then will kids get back into it because they will know that eventually they will have a payday. The most insulting thing I hear is a business manager saying, “Do it for the love of it.” I guess all the guys at Harvard or Princeton are also doing it and paying the tuition for the love of it.
Who needs employers
I'm a controls engineer. I have 34 years experience in a variety of fields and I've developed more than 200 new products — nine of those, industrial robots. I love engineering and the thrill of solving problems. However, because of my experiences, I've been pursuing project work instead of working for an employer. Why? Four previous employers claimed of wanting me as a permanent employee; having considerable need for my talents; counting on me to develop several new products; and having years before running out of work for me. The reality: These companies had one or more products eating at profits and draining credibility with customers, and only needed my capabilities to save their duffs. In each instance, within a week or two of finishing highly successful projects, they laid me off without warning. They didn't want to keep paying my “high dollar” wage of $65K per year and, of course, the benefit of health insurance. This hurt me and my family quite severely.
When I was an employee at one of the world's largest engineering companies in Houston, management would advertise for jobs — but almost always for positions being eliminated. When I asked one of my managers about this practice, I was told that they did this to give customers, board members, and stockholders the impression that they were doing well and that they were a worthy investment.
To emphasize my point, one popular engineering website features a section for job hunters. When browsing the site, one sees dozens of ads for engineers yet, at the same time, these very companies are laying off thousands of people. Job descriptions are written such that maybe one in 10,000 electrical engineers might actually qualify for it. Yet, when looking behind the scenes and checking out what it is they do, it is clear that a regular electrical engineer could do the job; the employer is purposely giving the public and their competition a false impression of their technical capabilities and needs. For “real” engineers, that's a red flag against that company.
Quite a few of my colleagues have experienced the same difficulties. Consequently, many engineers out there are doing their best not to be an employee because like me, they find it too painful. In my opinion, there is no shortage of qualified and capable engineers — just a shortage of engineers willing to be paid well below their value. In contrast, there is a severe shortage of managers and employers with a lick of sense.