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Good Help is Hard to Find

Posted July 12, 2009 4:45 PM by KER_Recruiter

As an engineering recruiter, I've learned that technical talent can be difficult to find. According to the National Employment Matrix from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, America will need roughly 160,000 new engineers through 2016. (Click here for the .pdf.) This demand probably explains the increase in the number of technical recruiters, but where are all the new technical professionals?

Mentoring

How do we recognize talented students and influence them to join the engineering workforce? To find an answer to this question, I've been thinking of ways in which current engineers could mentor and mold future engineers. I see mentoring as a very positive thing – not only for future generations of engineers, but for the mentors as well.

During this economic recession, there are many engineers without work. There are also plenty of your peers who have retired recently. If you're unemployed, why not stay involved in your profession by mentoring a student? For job seekers, this provides a strong answer to what can be a difficult interview question, "What have been doing since you lost your job"? Retired engineers can also use mentoring to stay active in their industries while helping their communities.

Would you like to become a mentor? If so, here are some links to organizations that would welcome your involvement.

http://www.asme.org/Jobs/Mentoring/

http://www.acementor.org/

As always, I welcome your feedback about this blog-entry.

Editor's Note: Jake Briggs (KER_Recruiter) is a Technical Direct Hire Recruiter for Kelly Engineering Resources in Amherst, New York. His territory includes the northeastern U.S. as well as the mid-Atlantic states.

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#1

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/12/2009 8:34 PM

Oooh. I bet you just opened a fire storm of abuse... There will be hundreds of posts about how there are already too many engineers, that engineering salaries are so low that no one is interested, or that US employers would rather import cheap labor from India or China.

The fact is that I have a pretty strong network, so I get contacted almost every day about engineering jobs in my field, even now in the midst of this "horrible recession" so I believe you. There is a shortage of "good help."

So now to stir the tempest:

1) Employers use these sorts of economic contractions to get rid of problem children. This is the fourth one I have experienced, it happened every time. That is not to say that engineers recently let go are not talented or smart, but the bosses will always start by getting rid or those that are a pain in the a$$. Think about that seriously people, and develop a plan to change your behavior.

2) Students in the USA (and in many other parts of the world) are too darn lazy to pursue engineering. They would rather play stupid at maths than to work hard enough to master it. Students in India and China are forced to work to learn the math, and so go on to pursue engineering. The USA is in decline because people in the USA no longer know mathematics.

Let the abuse begin!!!

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/12/2009 11:56 PM

the thought that US declined because it's young people couldn't plot a point on a non linear wave form, IE: is interesting.

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#3
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Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 12:15 AM

Unfortunately, I have to agree.

I taught physics and related stuff like electronics and computer science for 32 years. I retired 14 years ago because so few students were interested. I've been doing engineering for 13 of those years, and they are not having much success finding anyone to replace me when I really retire, or otherwise cease to perform my current functions...

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#8
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Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 10:30 AM

I have to agree that Math scares a lot of students away, but not all are simply lazy and only chose to go to college because they saw the movie "Animal House." Many students shy away from engineering based on what they believe to be good advice from instructors and counselors.

All that one is generally told to expect from an engineering degree is a "good regular salary," while business majors are enticed with stories about how they can become millionaires by investing in stocks, and that they can get jobs where they make their own hours after they get out. Add to that that one can usually complete a business degree in less time and at less cost to the student, and the business major looks like a better option.

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#14
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Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 7:42 PM

By the way, as a follow up on my comment about maths...

Ever ask a primary or secondary school educator in the USA (or Malaysia) about their ability to do math? The vast majority can't....

They teach out of the book and hope the students figure it out because they have no clue. I cannot count the number of school teachers I have talked to who had no idea what they are teaching when it comes to math.

As a result the students get shorted in this key area of their education.

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#17
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Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 10:56 PM

"Ever ask a primary or secondary school educator in the USA (or Malaysia) about their ability to do math? The vast majority can't...."

That is appalling!... And fortunately, at least partly wrong. I've been out of education for 14 years now, so things may well have gotten worse, but when I was teaching (college and high school physics and related stuff), I did on occasion get help on some tricky math problems, and I was nearly always able to find help in the math department. I even remember being surprised to find that one particular PE teacher (gasp!), who also taught math, knew considerably more calculus than I did.

There used to exist what was known as a General Secondary Credential. With that credential, which I had, it was legal for me to teach any subject at high school level. I intentionally let it expire, so I could only teach in my areas of expertise. It would have been just as ridiculous to ask me to teach, say social science, as it would have been to ask most social science teachers to teach math or physics.

I suspect (and hope) that your penultimate paragraph is referring to elementary teachers - They often have to teach the whole spectrum, and we all have our strengths and weaknesses...

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#18
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Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/14/2009 5:53 AM

I am of course only conveying my personal experience, and you are correct it is primary teachers that I am speaking of, but if the kids are not getting a solid foundation and learning the fundamental concepts in primary school, then how are they to carry on and succeed in secondary school?

By the way the PE teacher taught algebra in the high school I attended. He was horrible at it and I flunked. I took it again in summer school from a real math teacher and got an A.

I suppose I am drifting a bit off topic here, but again if the students of today are not getting a good math education, then they will not pursue engineering...

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#4

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 1:12 AM

I recently retired as a materials engineer after 52 years of practice in the aerospace industry, a steel company, the federal government, and a national laboratory. Here are my comments about the present perceived need for 160, 000 engineers. Engineers are treated as "commodities", i.e. as something to be paid as little as possible (this includes benefits like a pension), not given opportunities to publish or interact with their peers outside the immediate employer, and discarded whenever business slows down a bit or their salary demands exceed the minimum. I have heard the plaintive cries of employers and their representatives, such as recruiters, under 2 sets of circumstances, when the economy is booming and engineers can demand and get higher salaries and benefits, and at times like these, when some naive recruiters have latched onto poorly-done studies of manpower needs of the future and run around propagating these ill-conceived conclusions. It should be noted that I am not bitter about my situation, as I was never fired or laid off, and have started a lucrative and personally-satisfying consulting practice since I left the "rat-race". Engineering shortage my !@@@#!

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#5
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Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 1:29 AM

See, told yah!

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#7
In reply to #4

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 9:40 AM

First and foremost I would like to congratulate you on your 52 years of service! I would classify you as an expert in your field after 52 years of service. I also would understand the NEED for companies to employ you as a consultant.

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#11
In reply to #4

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 3:07 PM

just a side thought : at the end of WW II roughly 80 % of US wage earners were covered under qualified pension plans , today that number is around 22 % , maybe lower now.

So, i'm 16 a junior in high school, my counslor tells me, put your ipod down and pay attention.

i tell my friends how wrong he/ she was. and go wanna be the next american idol.

or the next Kobi , LeBron, DWade...since both of my parents work, if they both are still together, i can do just about anything i want from 3 ~ 7 pm...or later if im a bad boy.

and all my friends carry 9mm's , so i do to.

So , again , i ask, " what's in it for me ? " , is this the question of the day?

if so, how to change the question? ( need different results ).

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 4:11 PM

First, we all are presented choices in life and have some talent that marks oneself as unique. Depending on what talent we have and can refine will grant us different options to choose from. If you truly do have the talent to even closely approach Kobi, LeBron, DWade or any athletic sport star then go for it. To do that you will have a lot of physical training and practice to do. But don't forget, the three stars you mentioned are so well known and highly paid because their talent is so rare. So first you need to identify what is your rare talent.

But your question " what's in it for me ? " is the standard question of business. If your talent can be focused to some business, then you should be able to make more money. But if your talent is to do just what everyone around you is doing, then you are not rare. You've clearly have already made some pivotal choices in your life. Unfortunately it looks like you've chosen the easy path. For while the hard path does not necessarily reward handsomely, more often than finding another Kobi it does.

I wish you luck in your life. But it is your life. The choices you make today will form tomorrows opportunities.

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#16
In reply to #12

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 9:30 PM

actually , this statement is my belief of the challenges facing the youth today.

formed from the friends children that i know, my neighbor , some 30 years my junior ,

and my perception of the world as we have it now.

and yes , i whole heartily concur, life is about choices we make.

& sometimes that lesson is the hardest to learn.

ahuha

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#6

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 9:15 AM

We have seen this from some of our clients as well, they are taking the opportunity to dispose of problem children or trimming staff to save $$. Then they wonder why they can't get anything done.

I've said this before, but I have an older friend that says any engineer isn't worth a damn until 10 years of experience (and I mean real experience, not chasing a spreadsheet around a desk). If a company isn't willing to put that kind of effort and time into a person, then they will never have a reliable group of technical professionals.

From what I understand, there used to be a mentoring program at any large company with an engineering staff, but that is pretty much extinct now. There are people out there that are experts in their field and want to pass that knowledge on. To mentor someone in an engineering field though, I think you need to be working with them pretty much full time and they need to be passing work product through the mentor. Companies aren't willing to pay that expert nearly enough, and that expert in turn is forming a one-man/woman consulting business and his/her knowledge goes with them. Trust me, my company hires them as advisers all the time, and we in turn pass their charges on to the client.

It seems that some companies, as another poster wrote, are treating engineers similar to how you would treat someone who is home for Xmas break and wants to pick up a few bucks by folding shirts at the mall. They think, "Well, we'll just find someone." I changed jobs less than a year ago and it wasn't for money, it was because I was tired of being treated like the shirt folder.

Companies do not inspire loyalty any more and that makes it difficult to develop a person. When you trim staff to save $$ in lean times, then you should expect to have to pay major $$ to retain staff in rich times. This creates a market for technical staff, which in turn means more technical recruiters.

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#9

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 12:37 PM

It's been my observation over a 42 year engineering career that American kids chose engineering education for one or more of 4 reasons.

1. The positive influence and example of Dad or someone else very close to them who likely worked in a business that employed engineers and saw engineering as a path to a better life for the kids or simply shared his enthusiasm for engineering.

2. A strong interest in some aspect of the world of technology (often a creative hobby or the influence of a great high school science experience) combined with aptitude that developed in their early teen years.

3. The view that engineering was a good and well paying career (seen through the eyes of a 19 or 20 year old having to choose a major in college.)

4. They started out of high school in a blue collar trade and what they saw there motivated them to go back to school after a few years of work (usually night courses at an urban engineering school) This was common in eastern industrial cities.

So what has changed in 50 years?

We trained two generations of engineers at the same time we allowed ourselves to dismantle much of our manufacturing base in favor of globalization. So now we have far more engineers than we need. Even as we send that first generation into retirement we continue to import engineers from Asia and Europe.

But what happened in the last 50 years is that the surplus of engineers enabled employers to use trained engineers to design, drafting, technician, administrative and clerical work. State labor laws written when engineers were high level professionals in corporations now allow companies to require engineers to work lots of unpaid overtime. As a result net engineering salaries have actually dropped below the salaries of many skilled trades.

Corporate CEO's have gotten used to the educated engineer as the ideal "jack of all trades" for staffing their companies. Few things are as sweet to a company as free labor. They also see engineers as an excellent pool of candidates from which to select future middle managers. So, of course, they want only the "best and the brightest" that survive the most rigorous sorting process that universities can contrive.

University educators love to hear this. It matters little to them that all the tenured staff that teaches the math and science of the previous century will fill the brains of students with stuff of little use in their future careers unless they plan to go to graduate school. All they need to do is sort the wheat from the chaff. As long as Mom and Dad keep the tuition flowing, their accreditation stays at the top and they graduate the kinds of winners that go on to be lavish contributors as alumni they will be happy.

What else has changed?

Our society has afluenza. Nobody wants to work hard anymore, especially at getting educated. Entitlement is the big thing.

Kids don't have creative hobbies unless they have screens, joysticks, buttons and keyboards.

Schools are deemphasizing science.

Fewer citizens have anything to do with working engineers, who popular culture has denigrated into "geeks".

Engineering societies have devolved into little more than technical publishers of information that nobody except the few technical libraries can afford to buy.

We have a patent system that is almost useless to the small business person or individual practicing engineer.

Liability insurance costs virtually prohibit engineers from working on their own.

When our media offers up information on some technical achievement the "face" of that news is invariably some scientist, business person, politician or talk show personality. Seldom or ever an engineer.

Corporations simply don't contribute money to engineering education now the way they did 50 years ago. We can thank the quarterly result imperatives of Wall Street and institutional investors for that. Neither is there anything like the GI Bill that educated thousands of engineers after WWII.

Finally, and this is the very sad part, too many of our greatest engineering achievements of the past century are viewed today in a negative light either from a safety, environmental or general societal viewpoint. How do you convince the kids of today to go for a career where they will be asked to create more of the same while most likely working for a large corporation that will view them as just another exploitable commodity?

Ed Weldon

BTW the .pdf projection engineer needs from 2006 forward 10 years to 2016 begs some credibility given the economic events of the past 10 months.

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#13
In reply to #9

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 7:38 PM

I think your 4 reasons are right. My dad was an engineer and enthusiastic about it. He made a good living as did his friends and he did very interesting work. I was interested in technology, and so I followed in his footsteps.

I too have made a good living at it and have done some very interesting work.

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#19
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Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/14/2009 9:00 AM

I also agree with your 4 reasons!

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#10

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 1:41 PM

Several people have posted here some very good reasons why engineers feel under appreciated. Sadly mentoring itself can be just one of those methods. In today's corporate culture where CEOs and CFOs are getting golden parachutes for destroying long standing engineering titans (Nortel Networks, Disney) some can look at mentoring as giving up their security blanket.

In my recent quest to improve my job position after obtaining a new degree, I found a paradoxical position taken by most companies interested in my resume. While their sales propaganda always promoted a "unique" product in their industry, their quest for new engineers focused on finding the "golden child" who had been designing exactly their product for many years. They never seemed to be interested in somebody talented in another realm willing to transpose this knowledge into their realm.

I realize that this may be just my unique experience. That my recent toss into the employment improbability drive resulted in parking my brain outside of the restaurant at the end of the universe. Good thing I brought my towel with me.

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#20
In reply to #10

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/14/2009 5:09 PM

I agree with you. I have found that the personnel department that does the search for engineers have no idea what they should look for. They do not realize their lack of understanding.

Oftentimes they are looking for this perfect fit (as they see it) because they do not have even the most basic understanding of equipment or processes. It's all Greek to them. They even put too high an emphasis on a certain piece of software that in reality is easy (for an engineer) to pick up.

There are times when a certain need (such as a specific process expert) is actually required, but this is rare. When I interview and hire mechanics thru engineers a good attitude, accomplishment oriented thinking, and a demonstrated ability to learn new things are the most important attributes once a basic education or experience level has been met.

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#15

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/13/2009 8:28 PM

Part of the problem is that the educational elites have conned the business world into believing that if you haven't learned whatever at their feet, then you couldn't possibly have learned it at all. The cost of that sheepskin is high when you consider that many of those pontificating from those hallowed halls have never actually done anything either. But that's all many companies are looking for: wall art. Never mind if there is any practical experience or aptitude.

I have seen way too many qualified individuals passed over because they didn't have the magic paper, and the company thrashes about looking for their next wizard when they already have them in the shop; but the lack of magic paper leaves them invisible to those cruising the higher plane.

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#21
In reply to #15

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/14/2009 7:51 PM

Were you in my engineering classes when I went back to school a few years ago?

Your points sound frighteningly familiar to me.

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#22
In reply to #21

Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

07/15/2009 4:47 PM

Only if you're old enough for slip-sticks.

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#23
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Re: Good Help is Hard to Find

08/24/2009 4:26 PM

I agree. I did get the degree and worked for 14 years in a narrow field. Now that field is doing terrible and I was laid off because the customer canceled all of the contracts. Since I have experience only in that narrow field I can not seem to find a job (along with this wonderful economy that the last 3 or 4 presidents have resided over).

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