Engineers in the Workplace

Posted on December 12, 2005  Comments (3)

The engineers are feeling gloomy by Aliza Earnshaw:

Engineers interviewed in depth for the survey went so far as to say they would not recommend that their children follow them into the profession.

“There’s no money in it, there’s nothing but layoffs, and it’s all being outsourced to India,” said one engineer.

“There’s no respect,” comparable to that accorded lawyers or physicians, said another. “Someone with a bachelor’s or master’s in electrical engineering or software, he’s just a flunky.”

It is true some jobs are being moved overseas. But the unemployment rate for engineers is still very low (under 3%). Also the pay for engineering graduates is very high.

The status (respect) accorded to engineers may well indicate a long term trend in the United States to value those who work with money (salesmen, managers, finance…) over those who work on things (engineers, skilled workers, software…). I think this is a significant problem that does require that management improvement. In my view companies that realize that engineers, other knowledge workers, should be the focus of their management (not playing games with quarterly earnings) will outperform those that try to manage companies through financial measures alone.

In a post on our Curious Cat Management Articles blog, Google: Ten Golden Rules, we quoted a Business Week article, Googling for Gold:

The suits inside Google don’t fare much better than the outside pros. Several current and former insiders say there’s a caste system, in which business types are second-class citizens to Google’s valued code jockeys

with engineers and product managers tending to carry more clout than salesmen and dealmakers.

Maybe the suits shouldn’t complain too loudly. They may get others to look at why Google is doing so well and decide it is due to placing more respect on engineers and less on suits (not that suits don’t deserve respect but I question the current balance of respect in most companies). I believe the success of Google will eventually get more “suits” to realize they need to do everything they can to allow the engineers in their companies to innovate. At this time, it is easy for most to see this concept for software engineers but similar potential exists for many engineers.

Here is some data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (which has some great data but the web site could be much better).

Hourly Rates for Engineers in the USA
Field 1997

2000 2004
Aerospace 30.44 33.34 41.15
Chemical 30.65 36.39 37.97
Electrical 29.24 33.94 37.32.15
Petroleum 35.44 36.75 43.26
Other 29.00 33.52 36.59

Some additional data from IEEE, Employment Data Paints a Disturbing Picture:

In the first quarter of 2005, electrical engineers (EE) faced an unemployment rate that by fell to 2.1 percent, just about its historic average. The rate has been declining since 2003 when electrical engineers faced an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent — the highest ever recorded for EEs.

Between 2003 and the first quarter of this year, unemployment fell along with total employment, which declined from 363,000 in 2003 to 335,000 in March of 2005, almost 8 percent. The only way the number of unemployed engineers and the number of employed engineers can both fall at the same time is if a large number of engineers are simply leaving the profession.

While the situation is difficult there are positive and negative trends. We will continue to post on this topic.

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3 Responses to “Engineers in the Workplace”

  1. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Blog Archive » Engineering Graduates Get Top Salary Offers
    February 15th, 2006 @ 12:43 pm

    […] Engineers in the Workplace […]

  2. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Increasing American Scientists and Engineering Fellowship Support
    December 6th, 2006 @ 7:28 pm

    […] Related: Engineering Graduates: USA, China, India – Worldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data – Proposed Legislation: Graduate Scholar Awards in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math – Engineering the Future Economy – China challenges dominance of USA, Europe and Japan – Basic Science Research Funding – Science and Engineering in Global Economics – Top degree for S&P 500 CEOs? Engineering – Engineers in the Workplace – Shortage of Engineers? […]

  3. CuriousCat: More Automotive Engineering Jobs
    June 26th, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

    I must say I am a bit skeptical but I am hardly an expert in forecasting automobile engineering jobs so maybe it is a good prediction, Study forecasts 300,000 more automotive engineering jobs worldwide by 2015…

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