ROCHESTER, N. Y. Despite clouds on the economic horizon, recruiters see a sunny job market ahead. The coming year "will eclipse anything we've seen in the last 10 years," predicts Bob Crotinger, a principal in the engineering-recruitment company of National Engineering Search, here.
Crotinger has one client in imaging prepped to hire 1,000 engineers. Another is projecting 350 more. An RF company anticipates picking up 200 additional engineers. Most of the action, said Crotinger, will be in software, with plenty of demand on the hardware side as well.
"Companies are still hiring," confirmed Lou Schwartz of Technical Employment Consultants (Southhampton, Pa.). "Telecom is still very strong. And there's a shortage of MPEG people."
Shawn Oglesbee, consultant at the executive-search company of Christian & Timbers (Cleveland), predicts 1999 will be "a good year. Not a great year." A specialist in recruiting high-end managers in semiconductors, networking and other technology areas, Oglesbee said the decline in the semiconductor segment last year may have actually prompted some vice presidents and high-end managers to reevaluate their careers and seek out better opportunities.
What they'll find, said Oglesbee, is demand for networking, communications, test and design-engineering managers. "There's a critical need for design-engineering managers." Candidates should have two degrees (BSEE/MSEE) with an MBA if they aspire to a corporate or business-unit leadership post.
There are some cool spots. Avionics engineers are coming to National Engineering Search, asking to be placed out of the industry. The Asian and South American financial meltdowns have chilled aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing, which has announced plans to cut 48,000 jobs.
Indeed, 1998 was marked by layoffs at some very large corporations, particularly in semiconductors. EE unemployment rose above 3 percent. But recruiters insist that other engineering employers are around to scoop up any furloughed engineers.
Crotinger's company has met little resistance from employers willing to hire engineers from avionics, for instance. And even though the semiconductor industry laid off 40,000 people in 1998, there is still optimism. Recruiter Patrick Murphy (Jamison, Pa.) specializes in IC designers and the semiconductor industry. One of his key clients is Lucent Technologies. He's forecasting a "very strong year" in 1999.
Murphy noted that while the layoff numbers may sound high, only certain segments of companies were affected.
Murphy said 1998 was "the best year ever" for him. Lucent and Bell Labs have not gone through the downsizing that some other vendors have, in part because it's very diversified.
Anyone with three to five years' experience, especially in ASIC design with VHDL, will find opportunities, said Murphy. Mixed-signal designers, test engineers and intellectual-property developers will also do well. "Not as much custom work," said Murphy.
Overall, "1999 is very positive," he added. "I don't think it'll change."
The money picture is also brighter for EEs, according to recruiters.
"Starting bonuses are de rigueur," said Crotinger. "Salaries for software engineers are ratcheting up. Hardware, for certain specialties, is doing the same thing." On average, newly placed engineers are seeing 4 to 6 percent raises, but "that's an average," he said. Some in-demand people can expect considerably higher pay hikes.
In Crotinger's view, there's no question there's a shortage of software people. "Opportunities are overwhelming," he said. Christian & Timbers' Oglesbee has noticed a greater use of stock options by companies seeking to attract managers. The (temporarily) lower stock-market prices enabled companies to use the argument, "Lock in now at these prices" and "enjoy a rebound when the market comes back."
By the way, Christian & Timbers president Jeffrey E. Christian is predicting "a faster turnover in top CEO ranks during the next four quarters." The reason? Lower profits. "When the numbers aren't there, boards are much faster to pull the trigger," said Christian.