Is engineering going to be a good career move over the next several years? It's a mixed picture at the moment, especially if you're still in school. The U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the demand for EEs to be up 9.7% between 2004 and 2014.
A 10% increase over 10 years may not seem like much. But engineers looking for a new job can expect to find openings in the not too distant future, especially management positions, as baby boomers retire and begin to deplete the ranks of EEs.
A recent spot check of CareerBuilder.com showed 4000 EE job openings. Dice Inc., another online career site, reports a growing demand for technology professionals in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas. Job postings rose 25% in those regions since March of last year. Also during that period, the Philadelphia area saw a 50% increase in job postings, many for engineers.
In fact, the U.S. is littered with small-and medium-sized technology companies that are doing well and growing. Check out where the venture capital is going, or ask a friendly investment advisor to help you track down some of these companies, most of which you probably never even heard of. And then there's the widely publicized competition for top talent between the largest, wealthiest, and fastest-growing companies, like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo.
Can You Keep A Secret?
One of the best kept secrets in the industry is that many engineering job openings are with government agencies. The Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security, and Central Intelligence Agency, as well as their civilian contractors, expect to hire thousands of people in the next two years, and many of them will be engineers or computer scientists.
But many of these positions require security clearances, and clearances aren't easy to obtain. As a result, the pool of security-cleared EEs is limited.
Dice is actively recruiting EEs with security clearances. So is Kelly Services, which has formed a new division, Kelly FedSecure, to specialize in locating and placing workers with federal government-issued security clearances. ClearanceJobs.com lists 62,000 security-cleared job candidates on its site, 62% of which have been added in the last year.
To help fill their requirements, several of the hundreds of government agencies, defense contractors, and their subcontractors have resorted to recruiting security-cleared engineers from their competitors. Engineers coming right out of the military who already hold clearances are quick to find commercial job opportunities as well.
Clearances take about 18 months, depending on the level of security being sought. (For the Department of Defense, it's Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret.) Some EEs recruited right out of school are being fast-tracked through the clearance process. Can non-U.S. citizens obtain security clearances for government work? It's very rare, according to ClearanceJobs.com. To pull it off, you usually have to be someone or know someone.
There's another possibility, says Bradford Rand, CEO of TechExpo Top Secret, a traveling job fair for workers with clearances. Job seekers can hook up with a company or government agency that is hiring experienced engineers without clearances and assigning them jobs while they go through the clearance process.
Engineering doesn't make the Council of Graduate Schools' (CGS) short list of hot graduate school degrees. The council, which regularly surveys its 450 university members in the U.S., says that with the exception of international students, engineering degrees are losing steam.
American students' interest in engineering may be declining, the council believes, because offshore outsourcing has scared many of them off. Thirty-two percent of the respondents to a survey last year of technical professionals by Dice said they lost a job to offshore outsourcing, while another 33% said a friend had lost a job to outsourcing.
However, graduate applications from international students have increased by 11% from 2005 to 2006, says the CGS, following a two-year cumulative decline of 32%. Applications for fall 2005 to CGS U.S. member institutions show large gains in the volume of graduate applications from China (+21%) and India (+23%). Annually, China and India are the two largest countries sending students to the U.S.
Outsourcing yourself may be a good career move. The CGS says global competition for talent is increasing rapidly. In March, the United Kingdom announced a new immigration policy to attract highly skilled workers. The European Union, China, India, and other countries are making similar moves.
But it's a trend driven by American companies as much as by companies located in other parts of the world. A recent survey of more than 200 multinational corporations in the U.S. and Western Europe by the National Academies indicated that R&D work will increasingly be sent by U.S. companies to fast-developing economies, like China and India.
The study also says lower labor costs, while a consideration, aren't the major reason for the shift in R&D work. Rather, the availability of talent in these regions is driving U.S. tech companies to set up shop in fast-growing economies.