Electronic Design

Career Paths: Help Wanted—U.S. Engineers

The Search For Up To 5000 Engineers

According to Dr. Malcolm R. O'Neill, vice president and chief technical officer at Lockheed Martin Corp., his company plans to hire between 3000 and 5000 engineers in the coming year. That represents the 5% annual engineering turnover for its 60,000 engineers and computer scientists, plus an additional estimated 2000 for retiring baby boomers. "We have a very significant interest in hiring because the baby boomers will be moving out, retiring in the next few years, and I want to make sure we have a strong company," says O'Neill.

Lockheed Martin is one of the largest providers of IT services, systems integration, and training to the U.S. government. In fact, Lockheed Martin does nearly 80% of its business with the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. federal government agencies. The rest of its business consists of international government and some commercial sales of products, services, and platforms.

Today, the firm's hiring plan goes beyond just demographics. The company also requires engineers who understand new technologies. "Areas are evolving so quickly that we need younger, more recently trained individuals," says O'Neill. "Nanotechnology is very big. A lot of engineers trained up through the '80s and early '90s don't quite know all the characteristics of nanotechnology, such as tunneling in semiconductors. When you get transistors smaller and smaller, different scientific phenomena occur. Engineers must understand a different level of physics. We need recently trained engineers who have the ability to judge what is best to put on our systems."

"The challenge is to try to retain some of the experience older employees have, and at the same time keep up with the revolution in technology coming out of the universities," says O'Neill. On its Web site, Lockheed Martin seeks BS, MS, and PhD candidates in computer science, electrical, computer, mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering. The company is not looking overseas to fill all of those positions because its sensitive U.S.-related work requires engineers who are U.S. citizens. "Our contracts are not easily sent overseas."

Moreover, O'Neill strongly believes in widening the diversity among engineering recruits. "We have to let people know the gravity of the situation," he says. "We have to get more of a demographic cross section of the population, more women and more minorities. The minority interest has leveled off, and we don't know why."

One possibility may be a lack of high-school counselors. Students need to be reinforced that they should take as demanding a high-school curriculum as they can, giving them the background to make choices later on. "Don't cut yourself off from opportunity," says O'Neill. "Take that second-year math or science course in high school." In a similar vein, experienced engineers must update their own education. "You may think you know the technology because you graduated from MIT a few years ago, but there is always a new process, a new component, a new technology," says O'Neill. "The important thing is to keep up with the revolution in electronics today."

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