Engineers Take A Bad Year In Stride

Technology Staff Editor
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I tip my hat TO ENGINEERs. Despite the toll of the past year on the economy in general and tech in particular, most EEs still love their jobs, wish to stay in the field and do not regret their investments in the profession. In the wake of the worst economic downturn since the Depression, and amid continued increases in outsourcing and offshoring, it wouldn't be surprising to find that engineers have adopted a negative outlook. Yet the average engineer, whether in Asia, Europe or North America, is a fairly contented individual, both personally and professionally, according to the findings of the 2009 EE Times Global Salary & Opinion Survey. Generally, engineers are satisfied with their career choices, future prospects and growth opportunities, despite long days (the typical workweek exceeds 40 hours and can ratchet up to 50 in Japan and India), skeletal staff levels, and rising concerns about job security and compensation. Engineers are not a monolithic group, of course, and our survey did find that where an engineer is based plays a role in how that person views the industry and his or her place in it. Frankly, however, we expected gloomy responses to prevail when we set out to poll engineers for the latest survey. After all, the world remains in the throes of a nasty economic downturn that, starting in the third quarter of 2008, resulted in contraction of the electronics market and the subsequent rationalization of jobs throughout the industry worldwide. Indeed, thousands of engineering jobs have been lost in the West since the beginning of this year, and while Asian engineers have been somewhat shielded from the fallout of the economic downturn, they are also feeling the heat as companies demand more from employees and clamp down on hiring to stabilize operating margins. This year, EE Times expanded the annual survey to China and India in acknowledgement of the Asia-Pacific region's expanding industry role. In the years to come, we plan to roll out the survey to engineers in other parts of Asia, including Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan. Engineers in key South American locations, such as Brazil, will also be invited to participate. Engineering employers worldwide should take heed of the latest survey's findings. Although engineers remain happy about the profession, they have areas of deep concern. First, there is a strong belief within the industry that most employers are leaving positions unfilled in order to keep costs down, thereby squeezing current engineering staff. Engineers in China, Europe, India, Japan and North America are unanimous in their belief that employers are operating with fewer than the minimum number of engineers the business would seem to require, leaving many EEs with no option but to seek new opportunities. Compensation across the industry is also considered uneven, with a majority of respondents in China and India believing their "base salary is not comparable to others in the field with the same qualifications." This finding has significant implications for the industry. Companies have generally moved design and manufacturing functions to so-called lower-cost centers in China and India, primarily to reduce expenses. As engineers become more aware of what their counterparts in the West earn, the cost advantage offered by China and India will most likely shrink. Even that turn of events, however, might not be sufficient to offset the impact of the massive job migration from Europe and North America to Asia. Companies wishing to shift experienced engineers from Western locations to Asia might consider tapping Europe-based employees, as those workers appear more willing than their North American counterparts to consider relocating for the right job. More North American engineers than European respondents (43 percent vs. 27 percent) said they believe there are many job opportunities to be found outside their own geographic regions, but only 19 percent of North American respondents expressed a willingness to move, compared with 38 percent of their European counterparts. It likely comes down to money. North American engineers are paid better than their colleagues elsewhere, including those in Europe and Japan. European engineers generally tend to believe their compensation packages are smaller than those of their North American counterparts "in the [same] field with the same qualifications and work experience." The seeds of salary discontent are germinating faster in Asia than elsewhere. Engineers in China and India, who typically receive lower salaries than Western engineers do, are also less satisfied with engineering as a career, and are generally more open to the idea of changing jobs. Their dissatisfaction--and their willingness to switch allegiances and even careers to advance their positions--could well continue to rise as they become more tightly integrated into the global electronics design and supply chain fabric. Most engineering companies are already aware that salary demands will ratchet up in Asia as the electronics workforce becomes even more integrated globally. Eventually, international companies establishing outposts in the Far East will find themselves writing fatter payroll checks.

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  • Dean Westphal
    Dean Westphal
    I am an engineering (designer, mechanical) and have been out of work for almost a year. I do wonder about the job market for CAD/designers. As I see most jobs in field outsourced or eliminated. Will it ever come back?
  • Pravinkumar Anandan
    Pravinkumar Anandan
    I fully concur with the main theme of the article regarding the disparities in pay scales for same work done in Western countries and Asian countries. As a person who had worked in both places I feel once the pay checks fatten in India,China and other Asian countries (already the recent pay commission scales implemented by Govt. of India to its employees is a pointer towards this direction) the tendency of North American employers to outsource design and manufacturing jobs to Asia will be considerably reduced which in turn can be good for North American employees with improved job opportunities at the same time reducing the flow of engineers from Asia to Western world . If the economic downturn still persists in US and the other Western countries it may even trigger a reverse migration.

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