Summer Time And The Living Is Easy

Well for some it is. And among those lucky some are a fair number of university students who are now on summer recess – that long break from studies that provides many students with the opportunity to taste life in a different time zone. And by that I don't mean travelling. As I write this I have back at home a student son who will emerge from his bedroom later this afternoon and will return to it sometime prior to breakfast tomorrow morning having spent most of the night in local pubs and clubs with his fellow students. It is, broadly speaking, the equivalent of living not so much in a European time zone as a Californian one, about ten hours behind us.

But I don't begrudge any student their vacation. They certainly won't get such long holidays when they start their careers. That is if they can get work after they qualify. Finding that preferred job will be made harder or easier depending on the subject they qualify in.

For those aiming at a degree in the fashionable subject of media studies, the competition for jobs will be ferocious. It will be a lot easier for those students qualifying in electronics. Why? Well, despite the concerned debate that has rumbled on for years about shortages of qualified engineers, many countries are still not producing enough. In the USA, for example, student enrolment for computer engineering stagnated in 2002, yet the number of jobs in computer software engineering grew by 36%.

What's the problem? Clearly, the opportunities are plentiful with very well paid jobs available in whatever part of the world takes your fancy.

So who or what is to blame? First, let's get rid of one tired old image. That one where people think the engineer is the person in the dirty overalls with the oily rag hanging out of their pocket. Fortunately, that misconception evaporated some years ago.

What about governments and universities? Now we can attach a sizeable chunk of blame there. Many universities want students to flood into trendy degree subjects and many encourage the media studies enrolment frenzy. For them the economics are simple – more students, more profit. Isn't it time that government started rewarding those students that go into less popular, but nevertheless highly important, degree studies by reducing the payback levels on student loans? I think it is.

What about the electronics industry? Is it helping? That depends on where you look. In the Asia/Pacific region there is far less of a shortage of engineers than here in the West. So much so that companies here will often go on recruitment drives over there. In fairness, the electronics industry is starting to entice more students into electronics and electronics related studies. It is making it clear what it wants. Today's engineers have to be communicators and team players. They have to have diverse skills that provide multi-discipline capability. They have to cope with the challenges of the future like nanotechnology. The industry is also being much more thoughtful about future planning when it comes to employing engineering graduates.

Take the Lockheed Martin Corporation, for example. In the coming year, they will hire between 3,000 to 5,000 engineers. That represents the 5% annual engineering turnover for its 60,000 engineers plus, and here is the interesting bit of thinking from this company, an estimated 2,000 for retiring baby boomers – those engineers born just after World War II in 1946–47 when the birth rate was high. Many are now at the end of their careers which will create a retirement boom. It's smart corporate thinking to plan for this.

One thing is certainly clear; the industry really needs electronics graduates. For them the prospects and rewards are big. And who knows, they may even be able to negotiate longer vacations as part of the job package.

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