Engineer Shortage: Employers to Blame?

At least once a week, my phone rings or I get an e-mail message from someone looking to hire an engineer. And whenever two or more engineering managers are in a room together, one of the most passionate discussions they have is about the shortage of engineers—not just experienced engineers who can lead projects, but engineers fresh out of school, too.

05/01/2007


At least once a week, my phone rings or I get an e-mail message from someone looking to hire an engineer. And whenever two or more engineering managers are in a room together, one of the most passionate discussions they have is about the shortage of engineers—not just experienced engineers who can lead projects, but engineers fresh out of school, too.

Without the positions getting filled, projects are stalling, clients are getting unhappy, and the quality of work suffers. Under these conditions, companies cannot grow.

Short of telling recruiting companies to place classified ads in trade magazines and posting notices on Internet job sites, the only advice I can give is to do something daring like post the salary range and make it a big one. The phrase “salary commensurate based on experience” has gotten stale, and it's a buyer's market among engineers, so let candidates know what you're willing to pay.

But then I hear that firms can't pay as much as what's needed to attract engineers because their fee structures are too constrained. That when they factor in the time it takes to ramp a new hire up, i.e., train and mentor them, it's too much money.

What I'm hearing then is that the system is broken. The educational system is not supplying enough engineers, and the companies that employee engineers can't afford to treat their staff well by paying them what they are worth and training them. This implies that these same firms can't give their current staff raises or other rewards, and they may be overworking them, meaning they are at risk of losing them to competitors.

Something has to give. The buck has to start somewhere, and, frankly, it has to be with the employers. The educational system is not going to reform and your company is not going to grow without the bodies and talent needed to a) either justify the higher fees or b) meet the increased workload. Engineers are not overhead costs—they're continuous investments.

But it's not always about money, either. Employers often think that the only way to reward employees is with money. Rewards might also include visibility among clients, paying dues and travel to society events, and some extra time off on occasion. If you ask a person how they want to be rewarded, you'll often get surprising answers.

The homepage of CSE's website at www.csemag.com has a survey asking visitors how they prefer to be rewarded for job performance. If you visit the site and answer the question, you'll find out how the statistics are shaking out.





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