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Electrical Engineer Unemployment Soars; Software Developers' Rate Drops to 2.2% 419 419

Posted by Soulskill
from the guess-they-built-a-few-too-many-robots dept.
dcblogs writes "The unemployment rate for people at the heart of many tech innovations — electrical engineers — soared in the first quarter of this year to 6.5%. That's nearly double the unemployment rate from last year. The reasons for the spike aren't clear, but the IEEE-USA says the increase is alarming. At the same time, U.S. Labor Dept. data showed that jobs for software developers are on the rise. The unemployment rate for software engineers was 2.2% in the first quarter, down from 2.8% last year. This professional group warns that unemployment rates for engineers could get worse if H-1B visas are increased. The increase in engineering unemployment comes at the same time demand for H-1B visas is up."
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Electrical Engineer Unemployment Soars; Software Developers' Rate Drops to 2.2%

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  • One cause (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Z00L00K (682162) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @12:14AM (#43409039) Homepage

    One cause for the lack of demand of electrical engineers is that the hardware design and manufacturing is located to cheaper countries. However this also means that the competence level of the existing engineers declines slowly since they lack the experience from production.

  • by erice (13380) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @12:31AM (#43409105) Homepage

    All those startups writing mobile apps and creating cloud based services need software engineers.

    They don't need electrical engineers.

    Needing electrical engineers implies building hardware. Investers don't like hardware. It takes too long. It cost too much.

    That leaves only established companies for the hardware engineerr and they are more interested in the profitablity of existing markets then in creating new ones. Hense, not a lot of hiring.

  • Re:One cause (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yope (656090) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @12:39AM (#43409133)
    I am an electrical engineer, and work in Europe. What I see here, is that the quality of engineers coming out of college or universities is declining at an alarming rate. The knowledge-level about basic subjects is embarrassing to say the least. If this trend is comparable in the US, I can fully understand why US companies prefer to look elsewhere for good engineers. The decline in quality here seems due to the lack of students really interested in electrical engineering and "complicated" studies becoming less popular. Colleges and universities here need to lower the level of "difficulty" to make the curriculum more attractive and gain more students. The result is catastrophic.
  • by Ion Berkley (35404) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @12:54AM (#43409187)

    As a 25 year chip/hardware engineer, the last 18 of which mostly as a hiring manager in Silicon valley at bleeding edge small and medium sized companies I can say categorically that it's never been easy to find engineers as I good as I wanted to find, and I don't recall it ever being worse than it is right now...I have people asking me left and right for IC and H/W people and I have non to recommend to them. My experience with H1B's is at odds with much I've read on here and elsewhere...and it leads be to the conclusion that there is abuse of the H1B system in roles such as the IT service industry, but in R&D taking the pick of the worlds best people is the life blood of US innovation, it always has been and it continues to be. I don't know what the IEEE's agenda is, but I can say absolutely that there are incredible opportunities available and apparently no-one who can legally work in the US who have have what it takes to hold them down.

  • by sjames (1099) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @01:00AM (#43409209) Homepage

    Meanwhile, CEO salaries are off the charts. We need to bring in some highly qualified CEOs from other countries where they're used to working for less than $1 million a year.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @01:11AM (#43409255)

    Perhaps the problem is that everyone wants experienced engineers at a good price, but nobody wants to train them. They sit through four years of terrible college curriculum that will be lucky to have them design and produce even one project (that might not even be genuinely practical or profitable) and then we all wonder why there just aren't any good X, or Y, or Z left in the field. As the older ones retire, there's no younger blood to take their place, because training the next generation has never been a priority in industry, and the colleges sure as hell aren't replacing that kind of bond.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @01:13AM (#43409263)

    I wouldn't hire you. Separate your bible thumping from your professional life. I wouldn't tolerate it.

  • Re:Learn to code (Score:5, Insightful)

    by servognome (738846) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @01:28AM (#43409321)
    Hmmm, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to code the stuff I learned in: Microwave Measurements, Photovoltaic Solar Energy Systems, Optoelectronics, Antenna Theory and Design, Semiconductor Processing, and Microelectronics Packaging.
    I guess I could always fall back on my first year C programming class. I'm sure there are plenty of companies who need somebody to make their embedded device say "Hello World"
  • Re:One cause (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @01:30AM (#43409331)
    Which is more likely: every year past university you've gotten more experienced and knowledgeable and those kids fresh out of uni look worse and worse in comparison to you, or that the kids really aren't as good as they were ten years ago?
  • Re:One cause (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @01:45AM (#43409403)

    the quality of engineers coming out of college or universities is declining at an alarming rate.

    Throughout history, every generation has believed their kids were dumber than they were. If you read editorial pages from ten, twenty, fifty years ago, you see the same rants about the world going to hell. Yet all the empirical evidence points to the opposite. Kids are getting smarter []. Engineering GRE and EIT scores are rising. There is no evidence that engineering graduates are getting worse, and plenty of evidence that they are getting better.

  • Re:One cause (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @01:56AM (#43409453)

    ^^^ This. The US has largely ceased to be relevant for any kind of electronics manufacturing beyond small-scale highly customized design. The problem is, getting from "working prototype" to "profitable finished product that can be profitably mass-produced" is rarely a small leap, and the farther you get away from the actual manufacturing process, the harder, slower, and more expensive it becomes to get to that point in the first place. In some ways, real-world electrical engineering of consumer goods subject to variable supply-chain quality is a lot like building construction... if you pretend that what's on the datasheet is guaranteed truth instead of a rough guesstimate with enough disclaimers to render it mostly worthless if it ever came down to a lawsuit, you're going to get burned... sooner, later, and multiple points in between. You HAVE to have EEs who intimately understand the product right there next to the assembly line who can notice when something seems to be drifting beyond what they'd planed on and yell 'stop' before 10,000 items with $660,000 worth of parts end up in a landfill.

    No, that's not a hypothetical example. I was involved with a project where that's exactly what happened. We got what appeared to be an insanely good deal on RGB LEDs (~60 cents apiece, back when they used to cost almost two bucks apiece in thousand quantities), pre-tested every last one of them to confirm they actually worked, and didn't realize until after they were all assembled that about 15% of them had their blue and green pins swapped (or more likely, someone at the factory misloaded a bin of elements when the modules were assembled). It never even OCCURRED to us that something like that could actually happen, so when we tested them, we just checked all 3 pins to make sure we got 3 different colors. Fortunately, I was able to rewrite the firmware to swap the blue and green pin bits and came up with a way to retroactively reflash the microcontrollers in-situ (the original plan was to flash the MCUs before soldering, so the boards themselves had no test points or provisions for connecting them to a programmer), but it was pretty scary for a few days.

    Now, imagine that you're a large-ish American company with American designers that tries to outsource the actual manufacturing to a company in China, only to discover that the prime-quality Japanese capacitors you built the prototype with aren't quite the same as the cheap-shit Chinese capacitors that it was actually built with (the Japanese caps might have allegedly been marked for 10% tolerance, but were probably more like 0.7%... the Chinese caps might have been 10% off on their best day in history, and if the circuit really needs better than 20% tolerance... well...the fun has only begun.

    The farther manufacturing moves away from the design team, the more handicapped the design team is going to be in the real world when it comes to actual manufacturing. If they never get to SEE people trying to build the circuits they designed, they're likely to do things that someone who might have even been required to spend a week or two working on the assembly line would realize are likely to compromise its manufacturability. Under the best conditions, if the designers are in the US and the assembly line is in China, just about any problem is going to end up taking at least 2-3 days to resolve due to time differences alone.

  • I'm approaching my 20th year in the tech industry, so I've been around the block a few times. Tech workers are abused because we allow ourselves to be. Unfortunately that will probably not change for a generation or more, maybe never. We give employers the power to abuse us. The industry manipulates because it can, because we let them. They will not stop out of the goodness of their hearts. Maybe a bit more abuse will be necessary to wake us up. Maybe nothing will be enough. Who knows?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @02:44AM (#43409683)

    Sure there are CEOs who got there through doing "something pretty damn original that sets them apart". But so many of them are just charismatic business school alums who are well-connected and really good at schmoozing and giving speeches. For every big tech company with a star CEO who "gets it", there are at least 100 tech companies with CEOs whose knowledge of the company doesn't go much deeper than the stock price and which sales guys are the best to talk to about their favorite sports teams.

  • Re:One cause (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TopSpin (753) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @03:06AM (#43409771) Journal

    One cause for the lack of demand of electrical engineers is that the hardware design and manufacturing is located to cheaper countries.

    Can't be. Those are the jobs we're keeping here in the US because we all have $75k degrees. The low skill jerbs go to Asia and we keep all the high paying jobs because the Chinese are magically incapable of EE.


    Remember: Education. It's the future.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @03:34AM (#43409873)

    I'm not complaining about people like Larry Page. Not even about people like Zuckerberg. People who had an idea, risked something and it turned out to be a hit. No problem with them now turning profits that I couldn't dream of. They're the kind of CEOs I can dig, and I don't envy them a cent of their fortune. They did something great (ok, it's debatable whether FB should be considered "great", but it's successful), they had an idea, and they had the drive to make it come true.

    Who I have a problem with is CEOs that move from company to company, milk them for a few years, kick out a few workers to boost stock value briefly to pump up their bonus, then when the company is driven into the ground they march on to ruin the next one. I neither understand how they get hired again and again, and neither do I have any kind of respect for them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @04:40AM (#43410129)

    The first job is by far the hardest to get. After that first job though, if you're good, you'll be sought after by former bosses and colleagues as they move around in the industry. But if you're not good, you'll be the guy on Slashdot complaining that he doesn't understand why unemployment is so low but he gets passed over time and again.

  • Re:One cause (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrLang21 (900992) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @05:54AM (#43410349)
    How is this any different than it has always been? At the end of the day, only cold hard real world experience is going to make anything you learned in college make any sense. Even when and experienced person changes jobs, it usually takes a good year before they really become useful. This is why I always tell people to take a co-op if they want to go into industry. It annoys me to no end that employers claim they can't find people with with the skills they need. However, this was never really a problem until the Silicon Valley startup trend of hiring only people who have the exact background that they need. Before that, companies had to invest in their workforce. Not only did they expect to train new hires, they also had to keep their veterans current.
  • H1B in the focus (Score:4, Insightful)

    by slidersv (972720) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @07:05AM (#43410585) Journal
    America is the place for the best, so if you're missing talent - bring them in. That's how project Manhattan was accomplished. And that's how all the reolutionary progress is made. You don't look at where they are from, but what they can do. Once the protectionism and nationalism starts, the you're no longer the best, and just become one of the European Middleweights. So sure, if you want to fail in the long run, ban all workforce and intelligence imports.
  • Re:One cause (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @07:11AM (#43410615)

    I disagree. I'm living proof you can graduate electrical engineering with honours using copious amounts of Wikipedia. I came out of University knowing nothing and it has been an uphill battle getting where I am now. Most of my colleagues are the same. University is no longer about learning and it's all about getting a piece of paper, then we rely on learning on the job.

    You assume it was ever really different. It wasn't. University, even in engineering, has always taught relatively esoteric theory that is rarely used in that form in business. Why? because university is more about the process by which you get the answer and because commercial engineering has always been more about getting the answer. Commercial/professional engineering uses a lot of crutches: tables, guidelines, specific design software, Wikipedia. No company, anywhere, ever, has hired a kid fresh out of college and put him in charge of a flagship product, because no classroom has ever given the student the tools necessary to step into a real job. There is almost always an on-the-job training period, with the junior engineers mentored by the established engineers. This is one of the reasons that internship and co-op programs (used to be) so popular: spend fall and spring getting the theory; spend summer seeing how it "really" works.

    GP is right: the main reason kids these days seem like idiots is because us old farts can't remember just exactly how dumb we were at that age. The secondary reason is that we've expanded the college-pool from 20% of the population to 30% of the population, and that happens mostly by lowering the bar.

  • Re:One cause (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hrvatska (790627) on Wednesday April 10, 2013 @07:23AM (#43410667)
    What evidence do you have that more people are applying for entry to engineering programs? It seems to me that your premise is likely only true if universities could be shown to enrolling significantly more engineering students over the years. If the number of people getting engineering degrees is any indication, the information in this article [] would indicate that universities have not significantly increased their engineering school enrollments. If anything they may be enrolling fewer engineering students overall.

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