Is There a Shortage of Engineers?

Feel like there is not enough of you to go around? Maybe it's because there aren't enough engineers to do all the work.The U.S. Department of Commerce has released a study by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) showing a shortage of 70,000 computer scientists and systems analysts per year.


Feel like there is not enough of you to go around? Maybe it's because there aren't enough engineers to do all the work.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has released a study by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) showing a shortage of 70,000 computer scientists and systems analysts per year. The study shows that the economy needs 95,000 new workers and that universities are only providing 25,000 graduates per year. Whew! There is a lot of work for the rest of us! While this study did not include controls engineers, some extrapolation of these data has been made in the press to suggest that what is applicable to IT professionals must also apply to engineers in general.

How is American industry going to fill all of these openings? Well, it seems that searching for an answer leads to a political debate.

A real shortage?

According to Billy E. Reed, president of the American Engineering Association (AEA), "These shortage reports appear just before immigration is to be introduced or considered by Congress. The name matters little whether it is the ITAA, the American Electronics Association or the National Science Foundation, they are the same people representing the same vested interest in importing ever greater numbers of cheaper foreign workers. "

Robert Rivers, chairman of the Manpower Committee of the AEA, says the 25,000 figure counts only the number of graduates in Computer Science. Actually, people with a major in CS are a minority of the total number of people employed in industry in information technology. If you added into the supply the number of graduates in engineering, science, mathematics and even some liberal arts (people that also work in IT), the total supply is several times what ITAA figured.

On the supply side of the equation, it would stand to reason that if there were such a severe shortage, then all engineers would constantly be getting offers for new employment at significantly higher incomes."

The reality is that salaries for engineers have been stable over the past 10 years when adjusted for inflation according to a study released by IEEE-USA (Washington, D.C.). Another revealing statistic gleaned from the study is that while employment of engineers has risen by 12% the past 10 years, the number of newly graduated engineers has actually declined by 17% over that same period.

IEEE-USA president-elect Paul J. Kostek cites data from the National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Statistics system showing that 19% of people working as engineers in 1995 had not been formally educated as engineers, while more than 80% of those working as computer scientists, systems analysts and programmers—the areas of highest projected employment growth-have educational backgrounds in other fields.

The IEEE-USA study was based upon data developed by Data Research Inc./McGraw-Hill (Houston, Tex.), which used a sophisticated input-output model of the U.S. economy to determine ranges of demand for high-tech talent by specialty in 89 industry/government/academic sectors.

Use the talent we have

"Our forecast indicates that the strong demand for electrotechnologists during the current period of economic expansion is likely to continue into the foreseeable future,' says Mr. Kostek. 'However, recent history also suggests that the pool of available talent should be sufficient to meet industry's needs now and in years to come-if we develop and use it more efficiently."

Whether you buy into the political argument or not, it is agreed that there is the on-going need for trained people. Much of the anticipated shortage will be eliminated by simply training or retraining available engineers and nonengineers to fill these needed positions.

This also is a signal to us to constantly keep up with the changes. What methods do you have to keep your knowledge and skills current? It will certainly be a necessity for the engineer who wishes to fill those open slots coming up in the next 10 years.

On the other hand, maybe it's just that your company can't afford to hire more people.

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