Economic uncertainty has stalled high-tech hiring, but economic recovery requires that the technology industry make full use of its human capital.
It has been the mission of this publication since 1973 to report on the “times” of electronics engineers. One of the most important ways of fulfilling our mission is to take the temperature of the engineering profession each year in our annual Salary & Opinion Survey. The survey, first launched in the late 1980s, is your best opportunity to tell us exactly what’s on your mind, to gauge where you stand in relation to your peers, and to get a better sense of how the profession has evolved and where it is headed.
And evolved it has, as the pace of technology innovation quickens and globalization turns the engineering profession on its head. We have strived to evolve along with the profession by conducting a series of online polls this year in advance of the release of our 2010 Salary & Opinion Survey. The polls tackled salient issues such as the tech industry’s failure to resume hiring despite strong company balance sheets, the consequences of offshoring and the future direction of engineering.
The response was unprecedented, and for the first time we have augmented the more than 5,000 formal survey responses to this year’s salary survey by weaving your views into our conclusions. Hence, more than ever, this year’s survey represents the most comprehensive assessment available of what is happening on the ground for engineers.
Connectedness often means engineers are on call around the clock, seven days a week. But the tools that link us to our jobs also bring together communities of engineers based in Shanghai, Tokyo, Bangalore, Munich and San Jose. The result is that all sides of the debate on controversial issues like offshoring can be aired in EE Times’ online communities.
Interacting with one another, considering the other person’s point of view, leads to understanding. Understanding in turn promotes knowledge. And knowledge is power—in this case, the power to take control over the direction of your career.
A prominent theme emerging from our polling was how economic uncertainty has stalled high-tech hiring. Readers offered various explanations for why tech companies are standing on the sidelines. Some said the decision to retrench has been political; others argued more persuasively that “playing it safe” is the best strategy in an uncertain global economy that serves up one new surprise after another. The revelations range from the latest twists in the mortgage foreclosure mess and chronic high unemployment in the U.S. to tanking economies across Europe.
Such an environment stifles technology innovation, preventing engineers from doing what they do best: coming up with new ideas for products and services and figuring out ways to move those ideas from the drawing board to the marketplace. “Employees are being extra careful not to ‘rock the boat’ by suggesting new ideas,” one reader wrote. “With all companies doing this, nobody is hiring anybody for new products, and the recession prolongs itself.”
Nevertheless, the electronics sector has a reputation for building up capacity and human capital during a downturn so it’s ready when the downturn ends. We have seen some signs in recent weeks that hiring of engineers is picking up among a few chip makers and tech companies that use the intellectual property model. We will continue to track tech companies in the coming months to determine whether this uptick in hiring is the beginning of a trend toward economic recovery and renewed innovation.
It’s true that a company’s greatest asset is its workers. Nowhere is this truer than in the engineering profession. A committed work force that is fairly compensated and is given a stake in its employer’s future is far more creative and productive than one that is worried about the next round of layoffs brought on by offshoring and a fixation on short-term goals like propping up the company stock price.
The engineering work force has been holding up its end of the bargain. It’s time for the captains of industry to hold up theirs by investing in the future, rather than simply focusing on quarterly financial results.
All of us need to feel that there is at least a chance for a prosperous future. The hard work of engineers is one way to achieve that goal. An economic recovery requires that the technology industry make full use of its human capital.
Our work defines us; our jobs are central to who we are. Just ask someone who doesn’t have one.
About the author
George Leopold is news director of EE Times and editor in chief of EE Times Confidential.