Where have all the engineers gone?


From the past few years of engineer recruitment, I noticed a common career choice among them. Most of my hires want to move up to a managerial role and not want to perform an engineering role in the long run. Why is this so? Am I looking in all the wrong places or is it a career misconception that in order to move up the ranks, you have to be a manager or director. 

It could have been somewhat of an Asian culture that holding position with certain managerial capacity is sign of accomplishment. Or is it the way engineering jobs are being marketed? Perhaps it is even the way engineering careers are being designed. I sometimes hit the wall when an engineering candidate asks me the question on what’s next after I become a Principal Engineer? What’s the job title after that? Is there such a title as Senior Principal Engineer? When do I get to be a manager? 

Are these title-chases healthy? Do they really know how an engineering career should be charted? Are they really taking charge of their careers? It is quite scary to think that engineers eventually want to manage and not engineer, causing the lifespan of an average engineer to be in the region of 8 to 15 years. The amount of experience that goes to waste when these experience folks take themselves out of the real action, focusing on people issues rather than engineering issues. 

Are there too many engineering folks wanting to “take the easier path” by being a manager? Even that, is a misconception on the role of managers. Yes, we do need good engineering folks who know what exactly is going on to lead, but not all are is cut out for that role! 

How many times have we come across managers whom are promoted beyond their capabilities? How many times have we seen managers not managing but “over doing”? The list goes on! In my opinion, the crux of the problem lies in:

1)      The cultural upbringing which resulted in an over glamorized role of being a manager

2)      Lack of an integration of the different engineering jobs to form a logical career path. This causes most engineering jobs to be rather ill position for long termed sustainability, resulting in a misconception that the end of the road is to be a manger.

3)      The product/ service life cycle of the high tech industry is getting shorter, causing a rapid aging of technical skills. This results in a push for engineers to switch to a more evergreen pasture, rather than looking at skills upgrade.

4)      Lastly, the industry growth and market demand for engineers creates a vicious cycle where a shortage of skilled engineers in a given area is deprived of the opportunity to cross train for other areas. This result in engineers being stuck and over specialized in a single area, thus resulting in lowered market value and volatility as compared to their counterparts in the “management” capacity. 

Thoughts anyone? Cheers

Eric Wong.

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4 thoughts on “Where have all the engineers gone?

  1. Well, lets see… U.S. corporations have shown how much they value skilled hands-on engineers through their layoffs, downsizing, and early retirement programs for engineers in the past 5 years. Offshoring and bottom-line management has put worker-bee engineers on the chopping block. Moving up the food chain into management provides job security, and salary growth which is lacking for the practicing engineer.

    You reap what you sow. Why do H.R. people fail to see this?

  2. Have you seen the requirements for many jobs nowadays?

    “Must know aaa, bbb, ccc, ddd, eee. etc technologies for 5-10 years. Require BS, MS preferred.”

    It’s hard for the newbies like myself to get a toehold, never mind develop a career.

    And besides, after retraining or upgrading, how does one know whether that skill will still be in demand? Or even in demand in the area that you’re seeking employment?

    Who wants to specialize in specific technologies that are being outsourced? By they time you hit middle age, with a family, I’m thinking most engineers want stability (and hoping that’s in management).

    The million dollar question: how many managers are going to be needed in the future, if there’s no one left to manage…

  3. Pingback: Where have all the engineers gone? | Resource Blog

  4. Industry stopped hiring engineers 5-6 years ago with the tech bust, and the hiring still hasn’t picked up for the most part. New grads are lucky to find jobs that pay their food bills, if any jobs at all in engineering.

    I personally graduated 5 years ago from Electrical/Computer Engineering. Almost top of my class, have sent out thousands of resumes. But rarely do I even get the courtesy of a response, or an interview. The situation is replicated across most of my classmates, most of whom have either gone back to grad school, or now work on oil rigs. A far cry from being treated as the future ‘superstars’ of the ‘new economy’ in the late 1990s by recruiters and by industry as a whole.

    CEO’s need to stop hoarding cash, and need to start plowing those resources into R&D if they are to sustain economic growth into the future.

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