The nomadic engineer
The willingness of engineers to relocate could partly explain the increase. Higher pay was listed as the top reason for relocating by more than two-thirds of North American and European respondents. Of those, 24 percent of the North American respondents and 30 percent in Europe said they would be willing to relocate in exchange for a pay increase.
The emergence of the nomadic engineer is a likely consequence of accelerating globalization, rising interconnectedness and the diffusion of advanced technologies. While recent engineering graduates tend to stay closer to home, those with more work experience and employment savvy appear from our survey results to be more willing to pull up stakes in search of professional challenges and bigger checks.
Restlessness is also an issue, especially for engineers in China. That nation recently surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy and is methodically building up a 21st century engineering infrastructure that Beijing hopes will one day challenge the West. Fully 41 percent of the Chinese respondents to our survey, however, said they were seeking a career change.
The emerging economic superpower clearly has the resources and the will to become a technology R&D juggernaut. The question is whether China’s technology push will translate into higher social standing—and, with it, higher pay—for Chinese engineers.
In the course of compiling this year’s salary survey, we asked readers why they thought U.S. technology companies flush with cash had generally not resumed hiring. Many readers said they suspected tech companies were remaining on the sidelines because of lingering economic uncertainty.
One respondent, however, dismissed our premise altogether. “We’re hiring like crazy . . . with around 100 new positions on our books as we grow the company as fast as we can,” said a spokesman for Imagination Technologies, a U.K. developer of semiconductor intellectual property for multimedia and communications applications.
While the Imagination example certainly is not typical of hiring across the global industry, particularly for semiconductor design and manufacturing, it does underscore how the industry is evolving and which engineering skills are in demand.
“With the IP model now making more and more sense to semiconductor companies, R&D hiring has moved from the [semiconductor] to IP companies,” Imagination’s spokesman said. “IP companies are now where a more significant proportion of overall R&D job growth is happening.”
Perhaps, but our survey found that the primary engineering skills across all regions surveyed focused on design skills for embedded systems and for hardware/software co-design. Despite growing emphasis on software development as a key product differentiator, most of our respondents reported being involved primarily with hardware development. That said, to be sure, IP development and licensing play an increasing role in the engineering profession as emerging companies experiment with new business models.
The survey also found unexpectedly low demand for engineering skills in emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, photovoltaics and even nuts-and-bolts semiconductor advancements like 3-D chip packaging. That trend could continue in areas such as solar technology, for which enthusiasm in the United States has been diminished by the failure of politicians to forge a coherent energy policy.
Despite the prevailing sentiment among U.S. tech professionals that technology companies are balking at hiring more engineers, more than half of all those surveyed said their companies were short on engineering staff. The reasons, many said, include corporate acquisitions and subsequent downsizing, along with the addition of company divisions that are stretching engineering staffs.
Certainly, the tenor of this year’s survey was more upbeat than it’s been in several cycles. Nonetheless, it’s clear from reader feedback that many engineers, especially in the United States, remain concerned about the impact of globalization on their profession. Political standoffs at home and continuing economic uncertainty abroad could make it hard to sustain a nascent recovery in the engineering sector.
|Despite economic uncertainty, more than half of all the respondents in our global survey said they had received a bonus in the past 12 months.