|View The 2015 Salary Survey Now|
In 2010, President Barack Obama announced plans to invest more than $250 million in public and private funds to support new teachers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Earlier this year, the White House announced another $240 million in private-sector funding, with around 120 universities and research institutions pledging to train 20,000 engineers over the next decade.
Despite all this support from the public and private sectors, the United States has remained locked in a national conversation about the apparent shortage of STEM education and the overall status of the engineering profession. The U.S. Labor Department Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that engineering jobs in the U.S. are not growing as steadily as the demand for new technology. Electrical and electronics engineers, for instance, are expected to have only 318,700 jobs in 2022—almost 50,000 more than in 2014, but also about 17,000 fewer jobs than the bureau recorded in 2013.
Electronic Design’s 2015 Engineering Compensation Survey, which polled almost 3,000 engineers in varying design and management positions, offers a glimpse into what engineers are saying about their profession. It seems only natural that, emerging from the other side of an economic recession, the typical engineer has concerns about the future of the profession: working conditions, outsourcing, and continuing education, among others. Engineers have wide-ranging opinions on these topics, so here are a few of the written responses that did not appear in the final draft of the survey.
Do you believe that a career path in engineering and the potential for salary advancement is as promising today as it was five years ago? Why?
- “The field is becoming pretty crowded, but employers are looking for an exact fit for a job description rather than the best person for a long-term commitment as an employee. That is why it might look like there’s a shortage. Hiring has become an impersonal ‘meat market’ situation.”
- “I think I am living in the wrong city to take advantage of my skills but I don’t want to move to the Silicon Valley or Dallas or Phoenix. I see further movement of design to lower cost locations, and around the world in places like China and India.”
- “I would say it depends on product categories and technologies. Salaries have remained somewhat flat for the last decade, but I think the job market will pick up significantly with technology advances, like the IoT, wireless communications, and energy.”
- “It seems to me that software has taken over and hardware engineering is on the decline.”
- “I think that engineering opportunities have shrunk in recent years. There are fewer small and mid-sized companies that develop products and fewer manufacturers that are located in the United States.”
Would you recommend engineering as a career path to a young person looking to choose a profession? Why?
- “I would recommend it to young men. Being a woman, I have found it challenging to be treated fairly. As a matter of fact, I have three daughters and have encouraged them not to get into engineering.”
- “I just can’t see the demand for engineers decreasing. I have seen increasing opportunity for working at small entrepreneurial companies, as well as the traditional large companies.”
- “There are too many problems to be solved with not enough resources or time. All that for a low salary—at least in relation to your education. If you are looking for a career to make money, engineering is the wrong choice.”
- “I think engineering is ‘sexier’ than ever. Of course, the profile of successful engineer nowadays is not the same as five years ago. Today, it is no longer sustainable to be an expert in a narrow domain.”
- “Maybe I would recommend it. You need to be able to motivate yourself to work hard. The opportunities for real creativity are limited, as mostly you will be adding features to an existing product.”
- “I’m pushing my son to become an engineer (doesn’t require much force). I believe that the future will be more dependent on engineers, especially with all the new technologies that are emerging. I think it gives you job security.”
- “Of course. Engineering is a tool one can use to succeed in many career paths. If engineering turns out not to be one’s passion, the problem solving and analytical techniques learned through college and career can become a springboard for one’s future.”
What is your personal view of outsourcing? How is it affecting the engineering profession, your company?
- “I feel that outsourcing can help companies become lean and more focused on their key technologies, if done correctly. If done incorrectly, it can erode in-house skill sets. It shouldn’t be done as a cost-cutting strategy.”
- “Outsourcing creates problems. There are so many more opportunities for miscommunication and so the local team needs to work extra hours making clear drawing and instructions so an overseas team knows what to do next.”
- “Outsourcing is the norm, so just run with it. The biggest negative impact, in my opinion, is the lack of knowledge and skill transfer from old-timers to younger generations of engineers.”
- “We only outsource when we can’t do the work in-house and the volume of work does not warrant hiring the skills on a full time basis. So far, the impact of outsourcing has been beneficial.”
- “My personal experience is that, on average, it costs about the same to outsource than to design in-house, and that outsourced designs have less quality and robustness. The engineers doing the work don’t seem to have the same commitment to the company as full-time employees.”
Is testing still a challenge for your design process in terms of time consumption?
- “For us, testing is always performed at the end, with whatever spare time is available on the project. That is usually next to zero.”
- “Testing is a huge challenge. Most of my time and worries at my current company are consumed with trying to find methods and means to test the hardware quickly and accurately, and to determine reasonable test limits.”
Should individuals be allowed to modify software on the devices they own? Why?
- “This is a loaded question. Modifying software in cars could be a huge problem, especially if it altered safety protocols. With phones, I think it can be up to the user or owner. As for medical equipment, it should never be done.”
- “Once purchased, the software is owned by the purchaser but the rights to the intellectual property still belong to the developer. It could be warranty nightmare for companies.”
- “People own their devices. If they want to modify it, understanding that the manufacturer is not responsible for the device, then that is their business. For instance, I enjoy fiddling with motorcycles. Why should other devices be different?”
What are the biggest challenges you face trying to stay current with engineering information relevant to your work?
- “The problem for me is that there is a huge amount of information in the open source technologies area. Regardless of whether you are speaking about software, web technologies, or hardware design.”
- “The challenge is to balance the time spent on the lab bench doing actual development work versus time spent reading and attending events to stay current with technology.”
- “I have been in an engineering management position for many years and have not directly done design work for a while, which makes it difficult to stay on top of technology advances, particularly those driven by component level advances.”
Editor's note: Several quotes have been edited for clarity.