Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Fake Engineer Shortage

I have found this ridiculous for years. I don't know how many job postings I have seen with ridiculous requirements, such as 5 years of .NET programming experience, 2 years after .NET was released, but yet companies still insist that there is a severe shortage of trained engineers. Mostly this is because they don't know how to hire people, they use laundry lists of requirements in place of good HR practices in screening employees. The last contract I worked on needed someone who could program in C#, which I had never really done, it wasn't even on my resume. They realized I knew what I was doing though, and within a week I had figured out enough to get the job done.

Many companies say they're facing an increasingly severe shortage of engineers. It's so bad, some executives say, that Congress must act to boost funding for engineering education.
Yet unemployed engineers say there's actually a big surplus. "No one I know who has looked at the data with an open mind has been able to find any sign of a current shortage," says demographer Michael Teitelbaum of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

What's really going on? Consider the case of recruiter Rich Carver. In February, he got a call from the U.S. unit of JSP Corp., a Tokyo plastic-foam maker. The company was looking for an engineer with manufacturing experience to serve as a shift supervisor at its Butler, Pa., plant, which makes automobile-bumper parts.

Within two weeks, Mr. Carver and a colleague at the Hudson Highland Group had collected more than 200 résumés. They immediately eliminated just over 100 people who didn't have the required bachelor of science degree, even though many had the kind of job experience the company wanted. A further 65 or so then fell out of the running. Some were deemed overqualified. Others lacked experience with the proper manufacturing software. JSP brought in a half-dozen candidates for an interview, and by August the company had its woman.

To JSP, taking six months to fill the position confirmed its sense that competition for top engineers is intense. Company officials "struggle to fill" openings, says human-resources manager Vicki Senko.

But for candidates facing 200-to-1 odds of getting the job, the struggle seems all on their side. "Companies are looking for a five-pound butterfly. Not finding them doesn't mean there's a shortage of butterflies," says Richard Tax, president of the American Engineering Association, which campaigns to prevent losses of engineering jobs.