Insisting on a mythical perfect fit and offering little to no security or loyalty, companies that complain about a lack of skilled labor have no one to blame but themselves.
Dear Ms. Goldsberry:
I read with interest your July 2006 article in MPW regarding the shortage of so-called skilled workers‚ including engineers. If I could put in my two cents'' worth...
I am a mechanical engineer with a strong history of successes in my career: two masters degrees, two patents, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Still, it took me almost three years to find a full-time job after being downsized in 2004. My experience is not unique; that of most people I know in the "In-Transition Community" is similar. I know many highly skilled people—engineers, software experts, and managers, among other educated and skilled people, all having tremendous difficulty finding work.
This does not square with a shortage.
In the short term, this dissonance is clearly visible to people looking for work. The biggest symptom of the mismatch between company desires and worker skills is what I call the "Perfect Fit" syndrome: companies looking for someone who is the spot-on, ideal match for an exhaustive list of requirements for the job, as spawned from the fantasies of the hiring manager. I''ve literally seen an ad reading, "Wanted: Urinary Catheter Design Engineer; must have at least five years of experience designing urinary catheters."
In my own search I was even turned down for just a face-to-face interview NOT because of a lack of qualifications, but because I didn''t know the right CAD package. I had more than enough design experience; the company was not willing to invest even a few days in a course to bring me up to speed on the software it uses.
This represents a strong message from companies to people: "You are not worth investing in." And, of course, workers reciprocate with zero loyalty.
Longer term, students see the trend toward offshore manufacturing, services, and anything else that can be shipped overseas.
Regardless of the actual numbers, the fact is that factory closures are always big, public news. Why invest in a career in technology when the perception‚ which defines reality‚ is that such an investment of intellectual labor can be instantaneously undercut by some corporate decision?
Education, skills, and experience seem worthless when fighting against the cost disparity of cheaper overseas labor. I''ll stack my skills against anyone. If others are better, fine‚ the best engineer won. But when I know that no matter how good I am or how hard I work my job is in imminent danger of being sent overseas, then one has to ask, "Why bother?"
Several magazine articles have been written to this exact effect.
The lack of students entering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers doesn''t stem from laziness. Students are avoiding STEM because they perceive that such careers have no future...or a future where the economic return on the labor investment is not worth the investment. Imagine if surgeons were paid the same as retail clerks‚ would anyone in his or her right mind study surgery?
Companies facing shortages in the U.S. (and other high-wage areas) of technically skilled people are in a leaking boat of their own creation. Executives making the offshoring decisions drilled the holes themselves; the water is not to blame for taking the easier path into the boat to sink it.
(Editor''s note: The above opinion arrived in a letter from David Hunt, PE. Hunt is a mechanical engineer whose career has been spent mostly in plastics, spanning design, process development, floor-level engineering, and program management. He can be reached at [email protected].)