May 14, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:12 pm
Q&A

Plotting a solution to the engineering shortage

Brad Waldron

Q&A talks about the engineering job outlook with Brad Waldron, Engineering Product Manager, Kelly Services

Q: The Kelly White Paper on the engineering labor shortage says despite the recent recession, engineering remains one of the most in-demand professions. But, universities are producing fewer engineering graduates. What are short-term and long-term solutions to this shortage?

A: Kelly Services is actively engaged with STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) initiatives across many organizations. One of which is the NAF (National Academy Foundation) which promotes high school dedicated learning curriculum for engineering, finance, and information technology. Through our involvement we are helping to drive more high school students to these areas of need.

Q: Job satisfaction is just as important to engineers as salary. How is job satisfaction defined for an engineer? Is it flex hours and telecommuting? Is there more?

A: Like anyone else in the workforce, engineers are not all the same and depending on their individual perspective of what the "ideal career" is will define "satisfaction" differently. However, most engineers like challenging and rewarding projects to work on. They also like the ability to keep learning either through their work environment or through academic achievements.

Q: Some of the aspects of job satisfaction are exposure to new technology, ongoing education and advancement, and job security. How do businesses that might be struggling financially afford those things? Or, are companies finding it more expensive not to do those things to retain employees?

A: We find our clients in different industries moving at different paces with training and development for their employees. Some industries are going through retooling for their plants with R&D, technology and equipment, while others are still struggling to keep their doors open. For those companies/industries that are moving at a fast pace they are investing heavily in their talent with training and development. When making those investments, retention of those employees is critical so companies get a return on their investment.

Q: The white paper recommends including part-time engineers or contract engineers to smooth out ebbs and flows. How is it easier to hire part-time or contract engineers in a tight hiring market? Also, does using these types of employees make an existing employee uncomfortable about job security?

A: While the unemployment rate for most engineering employees is between 1.5 percent and 5 percent depending on industry, geography, and skill there is little to be worried about "job security" for hard working engineers in fulltime positions. Contract employees are utilized for a variety of reasons, but primary are welcomed to help augment work demands and to assist companies in meeting timelines for projects. The contract talent allows companies to be more nimble and flexible with their workforce through peaks and valleys.

Q: The white paper also says an interdisciplinary approach to education and research is increasingly necessary for tomorrow's workforce and the innovation needed to solve complex problems. Why is that? How do you accomplish it?

A: We have seen employers start to require talent with multiple skill sets. Sometimes it can be a mix of engineering & IT, engineering and life sciences or even cross functional skills within engineering like mechanical & electrical. This is because the technology and practices within engineering are changing so rapidly that tomorrow's workforce will need to be more agile in their education to keep up with employer demands and needs.

Q: The white paper also explores the topic of engineers without advanced degrees getting involved in research and development. How can a company identify the people with the right skills set? Is it risky to use people without advanced degrees?

A: The reality is there are a lot of smart engineering talent out there that have learned just as much through hands-on experience as they could through advanced degrees. Though advanced degrees coupled with experience are extremely desirable as well, there are some engineers that just "get it". To identify the people that "get it" is essentially looking at talent who can "walk the talk." Engineers develop reputations by past performance and accomplishments. Most R&D project managers are very versed in how to gauge a potential team member.

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