Is there an Engineering Talent Crises in the US?

In an article published last September on the Huffington Post there was a claim that the United States is facing a serious STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) talent crises. The author pointed to a study by the US Department of Labor claiming that the STEM workforce accounts for 50% of economic growth while only 5% of the working population are employed in STEM fields. The article further pointed out that the STEM workforce is increasingly moving toward retirement with an insufficient pipeline of graduates to take up positions needed to drive an innovation-oriented economy. The Manpower group publishes an annual survey looking at the most difficult positions to fill and Engineering comes to near the top (number 2) in their 2012 survey.

Listening to colleagues who have children entering  college, I hear frequently that engineering enrollment is surprisingly low. I guess we can all point to a variety of factors as to why this phenomena exists. Are we not emphasizing science and math in our schools? Or, are we not inspired like earlier generations? (think of JFK’s investments in NASA and the drive to have a lunar landing within a decade). Have interfaces become too easy (think Apple and Google) that we take technology for granted and therefore aren’t driven to “tinker”? Do we have too many degree choices? I would guess the answer is a combination of reasons. But certainly, if there is an engineering talent crises in terms of pipeline, then this poses serious implications for the electronics industry.

We tend to talk about the implications of increasing design complexity and business pressures (like time-to-market) as a major factor in informing our organizational initiatives related to PCB development (and product development in general). But what about this additional vector, where we might actually be coping with a workforce that is more burdened due to a shrinking workforce?  Add the fact that we are also seeing a decline in the PCB designer population (see an article published in PCD&F last April) and we might have a “perfect storm” brewing.

If, in fact, we are seeing a possible demographic shift in our industry, then that will have implications on design strategies, how organizations drive innovation, and how business targets will be met. Obviously every challenge presents opportunities and some of the solutions will come from political and business leaders but also solutions will have to come from technology solution providers, like Mentor Graphics.

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Posted March 6th, 2013, by

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Commented on March 13, 2013 at 9:15 am
By Joao Geada

Sure, there is a crisis, but it is a crisis created by the industry. When most engineers are treated as interchangeable cogs instead as of assets to a company. I most companies, at the board level, it is clear that lowest salaries are more important than developing, training & retaining your existing talent. Offshoring and outsourcing is everywhere. And, of course, everyone knows that the 40 hour week is just the bare minimum. So our young people, looking at all this information make a sensible choice to avoid this career path. This is not a lack of talent or lack of interest in engineering per se. It is a lack of interest in entering a career path that is perceived as not valued by companies. Not saying that there aren’t companies that don’t do things right, I’ve worked in many; but you wouldn’t know it from the average newspaper or TV report.

Commented on March 13, 2013 at 9:44 am
By Michael Lewis

I agree with Joao Geada’s comment, and would add that engineering seems to be a roller coaster career. The moments of job security, product success, and high-flying stock incentives are too short lived compared to the financial troughs and their associated layoffs, cost-cutting, and offshoring. In the high-tech industry, there seems to be an ever-present need to tighten the belt more and more, even though productivity gains continue to make improvements as generations of technology advance.

Commented on March 13, 2013 at 9:57 am
By Alex

completely agree with Joao. When all hiring is done only outside of US, when salary increases barely cover inflation, when work day is from 9to6pm and then from 9pm to 2am to cover China and India and when my own 6years old says that she does not want to be engineer anymore because “dady is working too much” – no wander young people don’t want to join this profession.

Commented on March 13, 2013 at 10:06 am
By Chris Henderson

Ignoring technical development and training is another big component of this problem. Companies don’t want to spend money on this and instead go looking for superstar talent, which simply doesn’t exist in the numbers of employees they need. They need to realize that it may be more helpful to hire newer graduates and provide them the training they need.

Commented on March 13, 2013 at 10:16 am
By Ali Erdengiz

There is no such crisis per se. Is there a (talent) crisis in manufacturing jobs in the USA? No, simply, there is much cheaper talent elsewhere. If you still want to call it a crisis, it is a crisis for the engineers and not for the corporations that created it in the first place. As the two previous commenters also highlight, why choose a career where you may be downsized before you know it and your job shipped overseas?
Of course, inadequate math and science education, expensive college tuition as well as negative social stereotypes also play a role in discouraging a career in engineering.

Commented on March 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm
By Jackson

As someone who used to work at Mentor Graphics until the bean counters decided that my job (and the jobs of several others in the group) could be done more cheaply in Cairo… Well, not surprisingly I tend to agree with Joao. And Mentor isn’t alone in this, look at the EDA industry as a whole. There’s not a lot of headcount growth going on in the US – it’s mostly going on overseas. That’s really too bad, because EDA jobs are about as STEM-y as they come. Very challenging problems, very interesting work. But EDA companies (adn US technology companies in general) are not commited to their workers. We hear them complain alot about there not being enough qualified people to hire, but in reality what they’re saying is that there aren’t enough qualified workers who will work for cheap wages.

It may be better to encourage kids to go into fields where their jobs are not so easy to offshore: plumbers, auto mechanics, electricians, etc.

Commented on March 13, 2013 at 10:39 pm
By Eric Edwards

American industry wants engineers with highly devloped and specific skills but is unwilling to invest anything in their workforce unless it comes very very cheap (i.e., overseas). There is no shortage of STEM graduates. There is a shortage of jobs for them in the US. And without those jobs, they will never become the highly skillled and experienced engineers that industry wants. When the current master engineers retire, their replacements willl come from offshore because only in the Third World are fresh graduates given the chance to grow into masters.

Commented on March 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm
By Ed Goldman

All – it’s great to see all the posts on this blog…. there seems to be a general thread, that STEM jobs are going overseas and/or companies are not investing sufficiently in training and personnel development. There is a truth that globalization has enabled jobs to go overseas, and there is room for companies to train and develop their employees – some companies do this better than others. But I still think the evidence is that there is a potential crises in absolute pipeline and ability to fill STEM jobs in the US. I site articles in my blog that point to this. I just Googled a Department of Commerce report that reviews “employablility” of STEM graduates (see http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/reports/documents/stemfinalyjuly14_1.pdf). In my view we may have shipped some jobs to foreign countries – but those are to countries that are investing in their STEM infrastructure and the US is seeing an overall decline.

Commented on March 18, 2013 at 4:27 pm
By Shaan Sengupta

As a STEM graduate with a Master’s degree and still looking for employment, it sure doesn’t seem like the industry is interested in hiring any new talent…entry level positions are demanding prior experience. And then reading about this “shortage” of STEM graduates is just frustrating. It’s a vicious cycle

Commented on March 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm
By Matt I

I’ve been bending over backwards trying to catch up on all the math I’ve forgot since high school (Been in the military for 5 years) so I could pursue a degree in Electronic Engineering, and this is kind of depressing to see before I even start.

Commented on March 21, 2013 at 11:32 am
By Harald Hober

As an engineer in Germany working in international projects. I have to agree with most comments. There is simply no shortage of STEM talent in the West.

I have given up on counting how often I have been threatened with “work harder, or else we’ll outsource you”. Although illegal, I have also been told that with 43 years I am too old to do a particular job. And for the last ten years I have seen salary “increases” not even covering inflation.

It is funny to hear politicians and industry representatives lyrically waxing about STEM talent shortage, when your boss just gracefully granted you a 0.3% (yes, oh-point-three percent) salary increase. And it wasn’t just 0.0% because you once again managed to finish a large project in time and under budget and are an asset to the company. A 0.3% asset to a world renown high-tech engineering company.

Why should a country, doesn’t matter if the US or Germany, invest in their STEM infrastructure if the country’s industry treats their engineers, pardon my French, as feces they’d rather like to get rid off than paying and treating properly?

I told my kids in no uncertain terms that I won’t pay for their university tuition if they decide to study a STEM subject. Fortunately they listened.

Commented on March 22, 2013 at 1:42 am
By Lior

The problem stems from a much broader problem. In the US, if you are a banker, the goverment will keep you employed, and very well paid, regardless of how your workplace performs. This is Hellicopter Ben’s policy, which was endorsed by both big parties.
As an engineer, there is no such protection. This is the 1st reason to study economics/business management. Much better job safety. Also, as a result of the “green energy” initiative (0 results and a lot of money wasted), and more and more taxes, the cost of doing business in the US increases. The US is following the EU, in becoming simply inefficient, which results in unemployment. Energy costs more, housing costs more, and taxes are rising. Off-shoring enables to cut costs, and sometimes being more competetive. BTW, Facebook & Google open offices in Texas, because it is the opposite of CA. The president of the US is simply anti-business. This results (as in Spain, and other countries) in rising unemployment. The US needs less taxes, less people being paid for doing nothing, less goverment assured pensions, less kicking the can, and more cheap, reliable energy (natural gas, petrol, and nuclear) , in order to get competetive again. The companies just follow what the political leaders’s economic policies dictate.

Commented on March 27, 2013 at 3:07 am
By Mike Evans

Ed
It’s not just the US that has the STEM education process, it is a problem over here in Europe too.
Part of the problem is that the rewards in the financial services industry have tempted STEM graduates away from the productive industries. I don’t think this is a government problem to solve, though it could stop making it difficult to solve. It is really up to us engineers to act as role models, get involved in local education initiatives, and explain that making things is much more fun that moving a few electrons around a spreadsheet.
Mike Evans
Director
Cambashi Ltd

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