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Is there really a shortage of engineers?

Is there really a shortage of engineers?

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One of the things we keep hearing again and again is the refrain about the dire shortage of engineers. I think this so-called shortage is a myth. Where are the statistics to back it up? Is there a real hiring crisis or not? The real answer is probably yes and no.

Yes, there is a shortage of some critical engineering talent in some sectors. Analog/linear and RF/microwave design engineers are good examples. Programming talent is also in high demand. Yet companies create their own shortages by so narrowly defining job openings that there is little hope of ever finding just the right mix of education and specific experience.

However, the answer may be no for other engineering categories. Are there huge numbers of engineers out of work? Maybe some, but they may be engineers who are dated in their knowledge and skills. Do we really need all those H1B visas to attract foreign engineers and programmers?

This purported shortage is creating another crisis in education. The general opinion is that we are not educating enough science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students to fill all those open and future positions. As a result there is an enormous number of programs in high schools, community colleges, and universities to recruit students for STEM jobs. And the students are not responding. They generally hate the rigor and geekiness of engineering.  

But what if we do start magically producing more STEM graduates? Fat chance that will happen, but if it does, will we be graduating students into a marketplace with few available jobs? That may be happening now given the continuing high unemployment rate. Who really knows?

Robert Charette, inhis article “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth” in the September issue of IEEE Spectrum, says there is no looming shortfall of STEM workers. He backs it up with some facts and figures. If this topic interests you, by all means take a look. I agree with his assessment, and you may too after reading it.

By my own barometer, there are some shortages in unique specialties of engineering, but not an overall shortage crisis. I do see a real shortage of skilled technology workers like manufacturing techs, machinists, repairmen, and installers. There are indeed jobs going unfilled simply because the youth of today just are not interested in such blue collar jobs.

Our millennials (generation Y, ages roughly 15 to 29) are enamored of technology and are heavy users, but they have no interest in learning the math and science required to fill such jobs. Even the military rejects about 30% of applicants because of their poor math and science knowledge. How do we solve this problem?

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