EE Times took to the streets—or more accurately the halls of the Santa Clara Convention Center—in support of our ongoing series "Rebuilding America."
The quest was simple—to find rank-and-file engineers on the tradeshow floor at DesignCon 2012 and ask them, "Are technology jobs coming back to the U.S.?"
Some of our interviewees agreed to appear on camera with the caveat that they felt that they had no particular expertise on this matter. But all of them had informed and relevant opinions based on what they see in their jobs day in and day out.
That was really kind of the point. There are statistics on job growth in the high tech sector published monthly by the U.S government, and it's pretty easy to get the spin from any number of trade groups about the job situation. We have and will continue to explore those avenues. But what we really wanted was to talk to the guys (or gals, though none that we approached agreed to be interviewed) on the front lines and ask them how they felt based on what they were seeing and hearing.
Those who agreed to appear on camera were, for the most part, surprisingly upbeat about this topic. Several reported seeing an uptick in manufacturing in the U.S. Although they acknowledged that products with huge volumes like Apple's iPad were likely to continue being made outside of the U.S., some said a lot of lower volume manufacturing was actually coming back to the U.S., largely because of logistics and quality control issues. One interviewee, Lee W. Ritchey of design consulting firm Speeding Edge, pointed to an old and reliable barometer—the scarcity of commercial real estate in Silicon Valley—as evidence that yes, indeed, tech jobs are coming back.
It should be noted that a lot of people on the show floor declined to be interviewed on camera for this story. Some were simply camera shy or too humble to believe that their perspective on this complex issue was relevant. But sadly (though not surprisingly) a number of them—too many—said or implied that they were afraid that talking on camera about this issue might land them in hot water at work. Any company that doesn't encourage employees to express their opinion on issue of importance to society should seriously re-think that policy.
Video 1: Seeing some tech manufacturing coming back to the U.S.
Thomas Smith, regional manager at high-performance connector manufacturer Positronic Industries Inc., said he's seeing some companies bring back some manufacturing back to the U.S. to ensure better quality control. "Anything that does come back, it'll be about quality."
"It's all about quality". My experience at two previous employers was that offshore sites were cost-efficient (lower $/hr), but often required rework due to lower quality, language & communications problems, etc. Hence, they were less time-efficient, so overall cost was a wash, and customer relations suffered.
@Chanj: I agree with your assessment of the two major reasons, but wouldn't these also be offset by other areas of higher costs such as supply chain, less reliable utility grids, language differences, and other possible inefficiencies/compromises?
"Necessary skill sets":
- Foreign born
- Willing to work for much less than the prevailing wage
- Willing to work far more hours than a standard work week
- Willing to be retrained to fill the positions of more costly domestic engineers
- Do not have the ability to leave and go to another domestic competitor (H1B-bound)and still stay in the country
It looks tech sector are coming back to US and that is very interesting news. Every engineer should contribute towards this goal and it should not be difficult to bring down overall unemployment rate to as low as 3%.
This well-read blog post may give some perspective on manufacturing issues:
Why Samsung will give Morris Chang sleepless nights?
It is true that building high volume product will likely stay in another part of the world. I believe there are 2 major reasons - 1) The labor cost and 2) The cost of building a manufacturing facility.
The labor cost may be the triggering point of moving manufacturing overseas. As the number of labors shrinks over years, the demand of a big manufacturing facility is low. As times goes by, fewer and fewer new graduates will join the industry and the talent pool will shrink. Then, the talent, together with knowledge, of building a production line disappears domestically. It seems like a negative spiral and the trend will be really difficult to reverse.
I believe it takes multiple parties to bring certain type of manufacturing back to US - the willingness of corporation to train new graduates, to build a production facility and the willingness of Americans to put their hand dirty again. If hiring managers are looking for 100% match of skill sets, they will have hard time to find the right talent. If employees are reluctant to pick up new knowledge and are easy on their job, their skills will someday be irrelevant.
Nothing can change over night. It takes 20+ years to move jobs away from U.S. It starts from simple products like telephone, thermostats. Now, complicated products like computer, TV and cellular telephones, are manufactured elsewhere. To reverse the trend, time is needed. We've got to prepared.