If the last close election was any indicator, the folks over at Gallup, Harris and the other polling companies can fold up their tents. In 1992, EE Times readers correctly predicted that a young man from Arkansas would overcome questions about women like Gennifer Flowers and move into the White House. Now, in EE Times' "2000 Worldwide Salary & Opinion Survey," this influential group has spoken again.
It's George W. Bush.
Even if every one of our other/undecided voters shifts to Al Gore, the vice president would have only 46 percent of the respondents' vote, giving Bush a solid win with 54 percent. It won't be long before we'll find out if EEs are indeed the only people pollsters need to survey.
Whether or not you are the political trendsetters for the nation, you've got some great insights into the political scene. Your comments are all over the political landscape. But though you've made your decisions, not everyone is elated with the prospects for the first president of the new century.
"Hopeless choices. We are doomed," said an engineer who may want to buy one of those unused safe houses from the Y2K scare.
As one might expect, the presidential candidates were called many things. Readers used a variety of terms for Bush, including "moron" and "wolf in sheep's clothing." But for unknown reasons, several engineers dubbed Gore an idiot. Apparently feeling that name-calling might seem unscientific or unprofessional, one engineer offered that Gore was "a proven idiot."
Bush was called one name that could only apply to him. "Not having a Daddy's boy in the White House," was the concern of a Southern automotive engineer.
Another oddity is that a fairly large handful of engineers expressed concern for "Gore's liberal Supreme Court opportunities," as one put it. The justices weren't much of an issue for Bush, of whom criticism was more broadly dispersed.
"Both have things I like and dislike, but Bush panders to business interests rather than focusing on his true responsibility to address the issues of society. He's in the pocket of the gun and tobacco lobbies. Gore's more socially responsible, but I wish he had better business sense," said a design engineer from the East Coast.
The issues driving EE Times readers are as diverse as those of the population in general. Abortion, gun control, personal integrity and taxes were a common thread among EEs.
"Between income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes, about 50 percent of my income is going for taxes. I want some relief from our government," said a Midwesterner with a household income of about $100,000.
Underscoring a debate that has burned in our Crosstalk pages for weeks, a designer in the industrial controls and equipment industry said one of the key issues was "the environment and pushing technology to decrease our negative impact on it, such as setting high emission standards [for cars] and forcing the use of alternative fuels."
This year, there's even been a bit of a blending between the political debate that dominates the broad populace and the hot discussion that polarizes engineers and managers: Is there an engineering shortage?
Most of you agree that you're in hot demand. Nearly two-thirds feel that there's a need for more engineers this year, a view that is bolstered by the sharp uptick in wages detailed in our Salary section. Only 36 percent feel there is an adequate supply of engineers.
That's quite a difference from 1992, when the North American Free Trade Agreement was, to paraphrase Ross Perot, deemed soon to be sucking jobs out of America. Back then, unemployment was a key concern and more of our respondents said they were "not at all secure" in their jobs than said they were secure in them. In 1992, a lopsided 87 percent said there was no engineering shortage. Only 13 percent said there was a surplus.
Coming on the heels of the shortage question is what to do about it. Corporate America and Congress have endorsed one solution: hire skilled workers from around the globe on a temporary basis. In a global economy, accomplishing that with Washington's H-1B temporary-visa program seems to make sense.
But American workers don't necessarily see it that way. Many critics of the H-1B program say that importing workers helps foster a working environment where it's easy to discriminate against older workers who make more money. They'll get a bit of support from these results, which drive home the obvious observation that wages rise with experience. Those over age 50 average $88,100, while those under 35 normally earn $72,600. In 1999, the average H-1B worker's paycheck was $45,000, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) study that was released in September.
Whether or not that differential fosters age discrimination, our older workers still have a fair degree of concern about the issue. Respondents aged 50 and up ranked it as either their first or second career issue. Job security was close behind for this age group, trailing only concerns about pensions. While a stunning 62 percent of the 50-plus set ranked age discrimination in the top two, only 41 percent of the huge group aged 35 to 49 rated age discrimination that high.
Most engineers don't seem to think age discrimination is any worse than in other professions. Roughly half of those in both the 35-to-49 and 50-plus categories said it's about the same, and only 32 percent of the older respondents said age discrimination is worse in electronics than in other professions.
From your comments, it's hard to discern whether the H-1B issue is a major factor spawning this concern about age discrimination. A number of engineers agree with the CEOs who pushed Congress to increase the H-1B quota.
Asked if H-1B immigration should be limited, one American-born design engineer said, "No. Companies will move design jobs overseas if they can't bring engineers to the current design locations."
Generally, managers seemed to be a bit more accepting of imported workers than the rank-and-file engineer. However, many often endorse the program with some misgivings.
"The large number of H-1Bs depresses salaries and creates an unstable work force. Unfortunately, I don't see any better short-term solution. Demand for engineers changes faster than supply, H-1Bs are a buffer. I hope they cushion the shock when demand falls," said a U.S.-born manager in the Midwest.
Those who appreciate the help that H-1B workers provide are also concerned about the way the new hires are being treated. If the temporary immigrants can't get the green card that gives them permanent residency in the United States, they have to leave the country after six years.
That prompted a principal engineer in California to pen an empathetic lament. "Forget the 'special temporary' visas. Some of our most valuable employees have H-1B visas but not green cards. We would much rather they had green cards. It would make our lives easier: Now they can't visit our military customers, and they can't even go home for Christmas vacation. But we can't seem to get green cards for them. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is broken."
Another respondent seemed to be concerned about the brain drain that plagues some foreign countries whose best and brightest come to the Unites States. One engineer offered an interesting twist on the concept that engineers who want to emigrate should contribute something to their home country. "Aliens should be required to serve their country of origin for a time equal to the time spent here in an engineering capacity," said a project engineer in the components and subassemblies field.
While the H-1B debate rouses strong emotions on both sides of the fence, it wasn't a real huge factor for many engineers. Supporting GAO studies that show most H-1B immigrants are programmers or IT professionals, a solid 66 percent of you said you saw no increase in the number of temporary immigrant workers in the past 12 months.
But cautionary comments seem to come from more than a third of respondents who jotted a note on this topic. "H-1B visas are bad for engineers, the companies, the visa holders and the country," said a senior engineer in his 40s. "It is a form of indentured servitude with a green card as an incentive that most companies don't deliver on."
Education still a hot issue
Almost everyone seems to agree that a key aspect of the engineering landscape today is education. Many of the chief executive officers are clamoring for improvements in technology education. Even those still in school are concerned. In our survey of college students, colleges graded out with a low B, which was far higher than the low C for other levels of education.
Education continues to be a hot button with engineers. In a ranking of career issues, it received the fourth highest rating, getting high marks from half the respondents. In an open question asking what the key issues of the election are, education was certainly among the top in votes.
"We should continue to push for better education and technical [training] here in the U.S. to develop the technical people we need," is how one respondent summed up the feelings of many in the survey.
Another respondent believes that one sector which is supposed to help educate the public is failing in its obligation to society.
"The growing technical and scientific illiteracy of the public is as much the fault of the media as of the educational system," he said. Surely he couldn't have been talking about us.
Interest in education has remained high since 1992. Back when a metal detector's main use was finding lost coins on the playground, most of you ranked education in the top three or four on an unusual 13-point rating scale. Exactly half put it that high.
The engineer's image was first or second of 11 career topics for 41 percent of our readers. That's almost identical to last year's figures.
Given that there appears to be an engineering shortage yet you're still underappreciated, a surprising number of you seem to agree with a Web respondent who suspects that engineering remains a profession that Rodney Dangerfield could appreciate.
"We must encourage engineering education and respect in this country and force companies to treat engineers better."
That sentiment would be no surprise to the researchers at the Economic Policy Council of Rhode Island, which earlier this year determined that America's K-12 students think technology careers are "uncool, nerdy and boring." Even the Commerce Department felt compelled to go to Hollywood and talk to producers of teen-oriented shows in an attempt to get them to discuss how math and science can help people become rich through stock options.
While everyone's focused on money these days, there's a very strong feeling that work is there to finance your personal lives. Managing the trade-offs between work and home remains one of the top concerns for engineers.
Most of you 75 percent believe you have achieved the proper balance between work and your personal lives. But for those who move into management, that percentage drops. Only 67 percent of managers think they've got the balance right, compared with 76 percent of staff engineers. For some, that sacrifice isn't worth the extra money.
"Balance is a top priority for me. I had to leave a supervisory position to achieve it. I am much happier and, I think, even more productive now," said a designer who now works 40 to 44 hours per week.
He's not the only one who makes a close link between wages and effort. It's no secret that many of you are willing to sacrifice a bit of your personal time for better wages. Or vice versa.
"I am paid insufficiently for 40 hours, so I don't feel any reason to put in more than 40 hours," said a 14-year veteran earning somewhere in the $70,000 range.