Electronic Design

Where Has All The Talent Gone?

The industry is struggling to fill new positions, especially in groundbreaking technologies and fields that require security clearance.

Is there a shortage of EEs and other technical professionals in the U.S.? Bill Gates thinks so. In March, he told members of one of the U.S. Senate committees on labor and education that Microsoft hasn't been able to fill 3000 technical jobs in the United States because of a lack of skilled workers. "We simply cannot sustain an economy based on innovation unless our citizens are educated in math, science, and engineering," he told the committee.

If you need confirmation of Gates' bleak outlook, a quick peek at any of the popular online job sites reveals thousands of job openings for EEs and computer professionals. Manpower's Annual Talent Shortage Survey ranked engineers fourth among the top 10 jobs that employers are having difficulty filling in 2007.

Dice Inc., which offers another Web site for technical professionals, recently listed nearly 6000 EE positions. Opportunities were available at organizations ranging from government agencies to toy manufacturers. So, it makes sense that employment is up for high-tech professionals.

Using primarily U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, the AeA (formerly known as the American Electronics Association) recently issued a study showing that in 2006 the high-tech industry added nearly 150,000 net jobs, for a total of 5.8 million in the U.S.

"Companies of all sizes continue to have problems recruiting highly qualified and educated individuals to work for them, whether those individuals are foreign or domestic," says William T. Archey, president and CEO of AeA. "This was reflected in the 2.5% unemployment rate for computer scientists and the below 2% unemployment rate for engineers in 2006."

Overall, IEEE jobs posted were only up about 4% in the first quarter. But Michael J. Buryk, business development manager for recruitment advertising at IEEE Media, says, "We just had a large bump from Google, which should push that percentage up in the second quarter." The top categories for jobs posted on the IEEE site in 2007 so far are software programming, design engineering, and research.

That agrees with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which expects the need for computer-savvy specialists to grow faster than most other jobs, up to 27% through 2014. The agency also lists system designers among the top earners, averaging $103,850 annually.

Security Access Only
Technical jobs that require a security clearance also are hot. "Security-cleared candidates continue to be in short supply, particularly at top levels and in fields that are highly specialized," says Evan Lesser, director and founder of ClearanceJobs.com. "The market is also seeing movement in terms of metro areas with the highest-paying security-clearance jobs."

A national survey by ClearanceJobs.com, an Internet-based board for professionals with U.S. government security clearances, indicates the already large wage gap between similarly skilled cleared and uncleared candidates is widening to a difference ranging up to 25%.

Candidates with security clearances issued by the Department of Energy (DoE) typically earn 12.7% more than their counterparts with clearances at the National Security Agency (NSA) or Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The gap stems from the fact that there are fewer DoE-cleared candidates in the labor market, and they tend to have specialized and unique skill sets with backgrounds in science and research.

Meanwhile, all major companies are looking for computer system administrators who can handle assignments in cybersecurity, a field that includes working with applications like anti-virus software and credit card encryption, according to CareerBuilder.com/AOL.

In the long term, it may get even tougher to find good technical professionals in the U.S. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the United States' over-60 population will at least quadruple over the next decade. As they retire, finding technical talent could be a challenge.

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