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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Is there really an engineer shortage in the US?

This article (unfortunately behind the WSJ paywall) discusses this question and comes up with a valid point: companies have become so picky and fussy about minutae that they see themselves as having trouble hiring, but engineers who could definitely do these jobs are being skipped due to missing some skill or another - often fairly minor ones such as inexperience with a particular software tool (while experienced with other similar tools).

Here's a revealing anecdote from the article:


Despite the numbers, employers say they struggle to find the right person for openings. Earlier this year, Raytheon Co., Waltham, Mass., needed to find some systems engineers. Raytheon received 158 résumés. It eliminated 40 in the first pass because the applicants would not be able to get a security clearance, says senior vice president Keith Peden. Raytheon ruled out 90 more because the applicants lacked experience in the specific kinds of technology or markets the job required. That left 28. Ten dropped out because they would not relocate or had insufficient technical experience. Raytheon interviewed the remaining 18 in person, made three offers and hired two.

"What used to take two and a half to three months now takes five," says Mr. Peden. Raytheon's chief executive, William Swanson, says: "As a company, we are meeting our hiring needs. My concern is that the degree of difficulty in meeting those needs has gone up exponentially."


Given that I've been on both sides of the table, my feeling isn't that there's a shortage of people available who could do the job, given a few months of learning curve. What has happened is that engineering work has become more and more specialized, not just in the type of work done but the tools and practices used, so the chances of finding someone ready to "hit the ground running" has become less and less, particularly as you get to more senior levels.

From a career management perspective, this sort of thing poses Big Problems: the standard advice is to "keep up" with changes in technology and such, but what if the company you're interested in uses Clearcase instead of Perforce for source-code control and you "miss out" because of a resume-bot miss? Given the "search engine" approach to resume filtering, the ancient advice is even more appropriate now than ever before: don't rely on your resume; build up your network and get jobs the old fashioned way, through friends and contacts.

UPDATE: Here's a non-paywall version of the article...

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