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Graying workforce, the easter bunny, and other myths

April 5, 2011
Apparently one of the popular search terms that brings people to my blog is jobs for older engineers. Not sure why I, total newbie engineer, would draw this crowd of experienced and wise folks looking for answers. Probably because the economy is total trash. I’ve done my own share of job hunting and been rebuffed and ignored, had only a few phone interviews (I’m beginning to think I get called simply out of curiosity and then no one wants to talk to me anymore). So I’m not really sure who’s taking all these lowbie jobs in my stead. If I had to guess based on my internal experience at MegaCorp it would be that we’re hiring no one. That we have a ton of jobs open, are totally overworked, interview a bunch of people, and then don’t hire anyone. Not sure why this is, remember I’m just a newbie.
I always enjoy the Editor’s Desk over at Aviation Week. I’ve linked to it before, and Tony Velocci is a intelligent writer with contacts in the defense and aerospace world who looks beyond the line his contacts feed him. He’s warned the industry can’t get too comfortable with itself and assume endless funding for overpriced contracts will continue, that pricing and timetables will become important and that programs need to start operating like businesses rather than government pork. He’s also talked about the lack of recruiting women in the industry which when you are a guy who’s friends all work in defense is a pretty brave thing to do.
Last year he talked about the expectations of young engineers not being met when they go to work in the industry. And again he’s covering similar topics on the attrition rate of young engineers in aerospace and defense.

I have less confidence in industry’s appreciation for how challenging it will be to attract, and especially retain, young engineers and technical specialists–the men and women who will develop the technologies the country needs.
 
In a recent visit to a leading engineering school that also is the alma mater of some of aerospace’s most celebrated, most highly accomplished individuals, I was stunned to hear that 80% of the graduates who chose to pursue careers in aerospace five years earlier either had left the field or are on the move. Eighty percent!

He discusses how young engineers leave the challenging environment of university, that employers require to remain increasingly competitive, only to end up not being tested or tried in their jobs.
The one place where Velocci loses me is his concern over all the retiring old people who will leave this big gap of tribal knowledge and experience (where he argues they need to get young people up to speed). In my experience, neither young people nor old people are being encouraged or hired. Well, in fact, no one’s really being encouraged, but there’s this middle section of people in their 30s and 40s who seem to be getting hired and getting promoted at MegaCorp. I don’t see us losing a whole lot of people in their 60s. There are a few, but they aren’t the ones with crucial knowledge and none of them seem ready to retire yet. The typical notice to retirement around here seems to be about two to three years and there are quite a few people who’ve retired on the job. We don’t seem to be doing anything to retain these people, and haven’t hired anyone over 35 in quite a while.
First, I think the idea of a huge gap arising from a bunch of people retiring is a huge myth, and mostly a scare tactic. Companies have been saying that for years, and so a ton of people I went to school with went in thinking they could get stable jobs and do this for life. Many of them have been jobless and wrong and have left for other careers. Many older engineers working in industry may also have the experience of stagnant wages which I think contributes. I think the only reason companies try to hang on to older workers is because they are actually cheaper than the star player in his 30s who thinks he’s going to move up in the company. The older workers still in the industry are less demanding and willing to work for lower wages considering their experience, probably because they’ve been through too many layoffs.
Second of all, if you build it they will come. If a ton of people leave engineering (like all those nurses were going to retire, right?) we won’t have any problem getting bodies in. If there’s a demand for engineers it’ll lead to better wages and better working conditions and people will be flocking to the industry in droves.
Now if these companies want sustainable recruitment and people with a wide variety of skills and backgrounds that’s a completely different thing. If they want new ideas that will save them money and lead to future contracts they’re going to have to work hard to recruit, diversify, and raise job satisfaction. But I suspect the government pork buffet they’ve been enjoying for decades isn’t going to force them into any kind of competition over engineers anytime soon. I recommend going to medical school: can’t outsource doctors and despite all the bureaucracy and long hours and poor locations and stress and the suffering that is trying to support a family on six figures in this country it’s still not a bad job to have. So it’s pretty much like being an engineer except you probably won’t get laid off and you’ll probably make more.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2011 3:13 pm

    Like you state "there will be a gap when people retire – wait, they've said that for years"… I don't think all those positions will be filled at all. It's been going on at unis for some years, when profs retire, they are replaced by some lecturers or noone – jsut to save money.As for "who gets the jobs"; I've found out who has gotten the last three jobs I've applied for. All three temporary <1 yr positions in industry/government. Asking qualifications "MSc in biology" and experience of lab work to work in a team. Ppl who got them? PhDs with 8-10 years of post doc experiences, their own grant money and in one case their own research group….At least I don't feel like I could've done any more than I did – it's just redicoulus. I'll hope for a break soon – or maybe til new years? Good luck in your search too!!

  2. April 8, 2011 7:11 pm

    Can't outsouce doctors? Of course you can. Medical tourism is booming.

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