Are engineers in America too young? Or too old?

Lance Jones, VP Technology, Evans Analytical Group

January 08, 2014

Lance Jones, VP Technology, Evans Analytical GroupJanuary 08, 2014

In Breaking the $300B Barrier: State of Semiconductor Industry, I discussed the state of the semiconductor industry in general. Today, I'd like like to start a discussion on the apparent aging of the engineerings in the US market. This is far from scientific research, so I am taking some leniency on the subject.

Three different events occurred recently that brought this subject to the forefront for me. First, I noticed a trend when trying to hire replacement engineers for several positions. Prior to the 2009 crash, we at EAG hired a group of engineers for application development. This is basically a hardware/software engineer who designs and develops hardware, software and applications, so they need a good mix of skills. The applicants were many and there was a large pool of qualified candidates with different levels of experience in the industry.

We retained most of the talent during the downturn in 2009, then started a slow hiring program in 2010 to 2012. We tried to target an experience level of five to 10 years for some senior positions. We asked for some specific experience on one of the large semiconductor test platforms. We were surprised by the applicants. Instead of getting resumes with the level of experience we were looking for, we received either foreign students looking for a sponsor or senior level engineers with over 20 years of experience. We polled a number of our customers to see if they had any candidates and the response was basically the same.

This experience has repeated several times, leaving me to wonder where the good, young engineers were to replace the present workforce. When our company changed focus and looked for an embedded development engineer, we did get a better pick from the experience pool, partly because it seemed like a growing field, with less maturity. Still, the experience level was strongly biased towards the two ends -- either no experience or over 20 years of experience.

The final piece of evidence came at the GSA event held recently in Silicon Valley. The median age appeared to be in the late 50s, and youngsters were those in their 40s. Now it should be noted that this tends to be an event with more senior management types, but it is a bit concerning. I worry about what is left behind and who is going to take over the innovation and drive the industry forward.

It could just be that we have heard for so long that everything is moving to Asia, that it has discouraged many of our young people from studying engineering. This leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. CEOs complain about lack of talent, and at the same time state that they are going to Asia. Where is the incentive for the younger generation? While this seems to affect the test and application development field more than some of the newer fields, there does appear to be a general aging trend. This leads to the question, who will be there to pick up the slack once us grey hairs leave? My hope is the new STEM push will help infuse some much needed new blood into the US engineering stream. Please let me know your thoughts and ideas.

To read more and leave a comment, go to “Engineers in America: Too Young, Too Old” on EETimes.

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