Is the pool shrinking or are expectations growing?
Some engineers suggest that it is not merely a matter of the pool of engineers shrinking, but rather that the expectations of some employers are growing, bordering on unrealistic.
"My engineering buddies tell me about job requisitions they've seen for analog engineers that require expertise in all of the analog buzz-word areas," says Paul Rako, a former analog engineer himself, who now works as a creative writer at Atmel Corp. "And then they throw in 'Must know VHDL,' which is a digital programming language. What? It's like two different worlds. Your head would literally explode if you tried to fill it up with all that information!"
Randstad's Wintz admits that he's worked with a handful of clients that have had positions remain open for a year or more. "What it tells me is that their criteria is too strict, and that they are asking for so many skills that basically no one on the planet would qualify without client-specific ramp-up and training," he says.
Barry Harvey, a staff design engineer at Linear Technology, asserts that companies have always had unrealistic expectations when it comes to hiring analog engineers.
"Say that your company wants to build a widget that requires real arcane experience. Guess what? You can't get an expert at a moment's notice and of course, most management cannot plan or wait, so they just hire or draft a non-optimal choice," he says.
He notes that every company he's worked at before Linear Technology, wanted to make ADCs but never had the right talent. "Radio design is like that, except you can hire a green RF-trained college grad," he says. "The problem is that experienced RF guys are well-retained -- or retired. Very few companies today are like Linear, where there is serious staffing continuity and long-term planning for intellectual growth."
So what can be done?
Given that good analog design skills are literally learned on the job, working alongside experienced analog designers, how can industry ensure a steady supply of talent needed for the future?
Many believe that on-the-job training, especially when it comes to analog, is the best way to ensure that tacit knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. An added benefit is that continuing education, especially in areas where technology changes rapidly, helps older workers avoid obsolescence.
But employee training, especially for more experienced workers, is not often a priority for companies.
I was mostly analog when analog went down the toilet. The biggest mistake I made is that I was focused on analog design and PCB design for digital signal integrity, which I was good at and it kept me busy. I really didn't get into learning new programmable stuff, which was not required and there was certainly no incentive for me to learn. I should have insisted on at least a little bit of cross training in digital FPGAs and VHDL, but there were always other large teams for that and only one analog guy.
Some analog engineers believe that companies of this sort, which do not generally train or retain analog experts, will continue to struggle to find talent or go without. "The outgoing bunch isn't going to work until 90, that's for sure. You get crankier as you get older and you simply aren't going to put up with the way some companies are run," says Harvey.
So what happens (or doesn't happen) if someone doesn't address the problem?
There is a sense that without strong industry focus on developing the next generation of analog engineers, product innovation would really suffer.
"We would see mostly product development, not new technology," says Harvey. He points to the Widlar bandgap as innovation and the writeable CD, while the better Brokaw bandgap and writable DVD are examples of product enhancement and development.
Companies that maintain a motivated talent pool and consciously train and give creative projects to their designers will see real product innovation. Too often though, the most creative engineers will be driven out of companies that confuse innovation and development. On the other hand, companies that empower their engneers to be creative designers will prosper.
Editor's note: Are you an analog engineer, hiring analog engineers, or otherwise have first-hand experience with any of the issues raised in this article? Do you agree or disagree with the analog engineers quoted? We'd love your feedback. Please comment below and join us for the online chat: Analog Engineers: Too Few, Too Many on June 20, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. ET (10:00 a.m. PT).
— Karen Field, Director of Content, EE Live and EE Times