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Electrical Engineering Lost 35,000 Jobs Last Year In the US 397

dcblogs writes "Despite an expanding use of electronics in products, the number of people working as electrical engineers in U.S. declined by 10.4% last year. The decline amounted to a loss of 35,000 jobs and increased the unemployment rate for electrical engineers from 3.4% in 2012 to 4.8% last year, an unusually high rate of job losses for this occupation. There are 300,000 people working as electrical engineers, according to U.S. Labor Department data analyzed by the IEEE-USA. In 2002, there were 385,000 electrical engineers in the U.S. Ron Hira, an assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, called the electrical engineering employment trend 'truly disturbing,' and said, 'just like America's manufacturing has been hollowed out by offshoring and globalization, it appears that electrical and electronics engineering is heading that way.'"
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Electrical Engineering Lost 35,000 Jobs Last Year In the US

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  • by ButchDeLoria ( 2772751 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @01:40AM (#45982913)
    Is it possible that companies are afraid of US-bugged hardware, or is it automation invalidating jobs for the moment?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @01:48AM (#45982951)

    Is it possible that companies are afraid of US-bugged hardware, or is it automation invalidating jobs for the moment?

    Seeing a massive movement of jobs to India, where, need I remind anyone, the government all but blackmailed Blackberry into handing over encryption keys, I'd say it's highly unlikely fears about bugged hardware are the smoking gun for companies conducting layoffs.

  • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @01:50AM (#45982967)

    Pure speculation, but it could very well be a knock-on effect from off-shoring manufacturing. You want at least some of your engineers to be close to the manufacturing line to debug when things go wrong. The designers might stay in the US, but manufacturing, test, packaging, etc., will shift towards the factories. And then, some years later, you'll want the designers to be near the mfg/tst/pkg guys to allow easier communication.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @01:56AM (#45982995)

    Does anyone have any speculation about why this is happening?

    Yes. Because it's cheaper and frankly, better to have a product designed where it will be manufactured. Asia (Taiwan, and China mostly) have product design and engineering mills (called ODMs) where one can go have a set of technical meetings, and within a few weeks/months have a prototype. They are not great at the firmware... but if all you want is a chip vendor support version of Android/Linux with pre-built applications on it, they can do that too.

    Quality, Better, Unique.... don't blather on about that. Real products have to hit market windows, on time and within budget. Taiwan does this, every day, and with scale, at shops all across the country.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:04AM (#45983037)

    No, US companies want cheap India/China-bugged H1-B or offshore hardware because it is so much cheaper.

  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:07AM (#45983063)

    Brain Drain and woefully inadequate expenditures on infrastructure.

    For whatever reasons, electrical engineering is done by foreign companies. Many engineers received education in the US and then fled back to their countries to work in companies servicing us. I don't really blame them either. America has to compete fairly as a place people want to desire to live. If we were so damn good they would stay.

    This is just a side effect of all of the brain drain going on for decades. Less electrical engineers needed to support research, and less shops in the US needing those engineers, to provide high tech products to the rest.

    The rest of the world isn't stupid. Other countries have the engineering capability to do these things and the economies to compete with ourselves.

    With respect to electrical engineering in particular, the US simply does not spend enough on infrastructure to stimulate that part of the economy. Which is sad. We need to not just create new transportation and material sciences, but implement them on a wide scale.

    Not doing that, so the engineers shouldn't hold their breath waiting for a game changing high tech rail system being deployed across the US.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:16AM (#45983095)

    Interestingly, I think this may be part of it. 20 years ago products would be designed by 5 electrical engineers and 1 developer for drivers and interfacing or MCU programming and now it's 1 electrical engineer and 11 software engineers on a product.

  • by ToadProphet ( 1148333 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:20AM (#45983105)

    Because outsourcing is moving up the chain. First the unskilled labour, then the skilled professionals, and finally the rest of the company (aside from sales and the CXX's).

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:21AM (#45983111)

    Corporate America is making a very clear statement. They will not hire Americans under these rules and we can't make them.

    We need to really do a gut check on a lot of our labor policies, taxes, and regulations that effect labor prices in the US and... then ask ourselves if we'd rather keep the laws as they are and accept high levels of permanent structural unemployment... or if we're willing to compromise to get people into careers.

    The whole issue is very politically charged. A gaggle of people might well respond to this post calling me names for suggesting compromise here. But the thing is labor policies are irrelevant to you if you don't have a job and can't get one.

    So the labor policies are doing NOTHING for those people. Consider changing the laws so it actually helps them get and keep a job... and we'll actually be moving in a more positive direction.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:25AM (#45983123)

    Is it possible that companies are afraid of US-bugged hardware, or is it automation invalidating jobs for the moment?

    Seeing a massive movement of jobs to India, ...

    The low end jobs which go to India are where engineers enter industry and learn their stuff so this does matter here and is a good trend (I am really hoping India manages to use this to take their country out of poverty). You need to ask why an Indian Engineer is a tax deductible expense whilst you are a taxable employee? Why are US companies allowed to effectively employ these people with absolutely no employment rights? This is certainly nothing to do with efficiency other than "tax efficiency".

    The real thing that matters, though, is that manufacturing moved to China and now all the learning about how to actually make things is going direct to engineers in China who, if the trend doesn't reverse fast, will be better at all kinds of design that US engineers within a generation.

    As long as Americans continue to elect politicians that worship companies and the "free market" over their own countries interests you are going to continue to lose out to, biggest irony of all, a planned economy of a country that calls its self "communist".

  • by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @03:29AM (#45983367)

    I'm paranoid and miserable, yet you respond with fallacies and your own spin of propaganda? I'm sure you'd be just as quick to blame the US for its 'outside influence' on other countries, right? It's not a unilateral situation. The US was/is not immune to outside influence, certainly not during the cold war.

    Of course the US itself is partly responsible. If you actually read my post you'd see it stated there (try rereading the middle paragraph). However, outside influences cannot be denied.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:34AM (#45983867)

    Real cheap products have to hit market windows, on time and within budget.


    Real good products define their own market window and come out when they are ready and properly developed. You know...quality, better, unique.

    Alas, so many people have absolutely no sense for quality and design anymore.
    Cheap, cheap, cheap. Dreadful.

  • by ImOuttaHere ( 2996813 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:35AM (#45983871)

    Does anyone have any speculation about why this is happening?

    What I'm about to say is not speculation. It's the truth -

    Certain companies have convinced themselves that not only can they move manufacturing to China, they can also move product development engineering (including, shockingly to me, electrical engineering).

    A CEO of a company I worked for told a packed audience of software, electrical, and mechanical engineers (many of us in the industry for 20+ years) that China produces over a million "qualified", "well trained" engineers a year. He told us it'd be crazy for him not to move engineering overseas, since that's where the "talent" is. You could have heard a pin drop. That's how shocked we were.

    Anyone who's studied China carefully will know that the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) is struggling for credibility. You will also know that the Chinese university system that pumps out thousands of "qualified", "well trained" PhD degreed engineers has a serious problem. 98 percent of the PhD thesis are either straight rip-offs of Western thesis, or contend things that are not reproducible by any known means.

    The company I worked for generates north of 3 billion dollars a year and has a sky high stock valuation. They acquire high-tech companies, gut them, send the remaining manufacturing and engineering to China, and leave small staffs of engineers in the US to keep existing products alive.

    In the case of the original company I worked for, pre-acquisition we numbered 4,500+ employees and 900+ engineers (mechanical, electrical, software) world wide and were number one in four market segments and successfully competed against two other equally sized US companies. We generated over a billion dollars a year in revenue. Four years after the acquisition, there are less than 800 employees with fewer than 150 engineers, and that's after a huge build-up in it's China engineering and manufacturing operations. Revenues in the original company have fallen by 50 percent, and the take-over company hides this fact through acquiring other companies and puts them under the original companies "umbrella" operations.

    These kinds of take-over companies are called asset strippers, or in Wall Street parlance; roll-up companies. They can be worse than private equity firms.

    Here is an example of how electrical engineering jobs are lost to China. The company later acquired a highly specialized electronics firm. Their products require a very careful manufacturing technique, overseen by electrical engineers, to meet very high product design specs. Within 6 months, the company had taken the process to China and tried to train four different Chinese companies before they found one that might eventually meet the specs. The US-based staff were immediately terminated and the Chinese built products, even today, can not meet the original design specifications. In "normal" times, this might be considered treasonous activity on the part of the company as defense contractors used to rely on the technologies to "keep America safe." Knowing that engineering and manufacturing were shifted to China, defense contractors had no choice but to buy from someone else. The irony was that the President of the company that moved these operations to China claimed on national media that defense contractor sales had dropped dramatically and, therefore, he needed to lay off even more engineers as a result.

    In another case, the company moved certain electrical re-engineering functions to it's China operations. In the US it took only 5 employees to keep the operations functioning correctly. I recently learned that they had hired 37 Chinese to implement the electrical re-engineering function and were intending on hiring more. The reason? The Chinese could _not_ do the job. The 5 US-based engineers had been laid off and there is no "going back."

    As to why a company would gut it's US engineering operations and hire in China when the Chinese are clearly i

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @05:55AM (#45983971)

    You could do all that if you would stop spending most of your money on stupid weapons. (I mean the government)
    Your military is simply comically bloated.

    Sometimes I think the only other country that puts so much emphasis on it's armed forces is North Korea.

  • by TheSeatOfMyPants ( 2645007 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @07:04AM (#45984257) Journal

    The low end jobs which go to India are where engineers enter industry and learn their stuff so this does matter here and is a good trend (I am really hoping India manages to use this to take their country out of poverty).

    It's a "good trend" from the perspective of people in India that benefit from it. It's not so good from the perspective of US engineers whose experience or ability is best suited to that kind of job, and when they're stuck taking crappy jobs that let them just scrape by, it's not good for their family or our society's tax base & economy.

    It's like the old swimming rule that if you see somebody drowning, don't swim right up to them -- because rather than saving their life, you are far more likely to find them dragging you under and making it extremely hard at bestto stay afloat. Countries that have severe socioeconomic gaps between privileged/underprivileged groups, with the bulk of the population living in poverty, are a lot like that theoretical drowning person. Rather than India being at all likely to improve things for its general population, it's merely dragging the US under.

    Countries tend to do their best at lasting improvements when they focus on inventing items or concepts that creatively address common problems, amuse people, or improve quality of life, and then alter the invention/idea so that it is a product people would wish to buy. In comparison, entry-level/unskilled jobs poached from other countries tend to pay less over time, they don't encourage government investment in education for higher-end jobs or for creating new industries, and virtually all of the income is taken by the facilitating company rather than being put back into the local economy by employees.

    I definitely agree with free trade & our politicians being the culprit... I have no idea how to fix the pro-corporate corruption that has taken over every facet of government, though, and we'd have to do that before we could come close to fixing the problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:18AM (#45984573)

    I am/was an EE with a degree, coincidentally, from RIT. I switched careers about 5 years ago because I saw this coming even though I had a very senior design position at a major chip designer. I even presented about it at a meeting at RIT some years back with a presentation called "why electrical engineering is the next textile industry." I laid out 3 key reasons why this was going to happen.
    1. Growth of skills external to the country.
    2. Consolidation and standardization of technology.
    3. Improvement in tools and processes.

    1. Is pretty self explanatory it's outsourcing 101
    2. Could be two items. In terms of consolidation a lot of the tech diversity we had 15 years ago is gone. In the processor space we had SGI, Sun, HP and others designing their own chips and that work is all gone because they all got out of those markets. Standardization was great for technology and great for consumers but bad for engineers. Again go back 15 years. You had so many different ways to connect peripherals to to the computer which has almost entirely been replaced by Bluetooth and USB. The same thing has been going on at the hardware integration level. Interconnect standardization has resulted in just using other peoples designs and hanging them off a bus rather then designing your own or at the very least designing your own bridge.
    3. As tech standardized tools could as well, faster models and predesigned test packages as well as newer ways to find bugs and get better test coverage just meant the need for less people. On one of my last projects a new piece of software did in two hours what we had one or two people, depending on the project, working full time on. If we needed to tweak a test post fab it took just a couple minutes instead of a week. It got to the point that management really started treating testing a validation people as second class citizens. They were cut and never back filled or replaced with a non-engineer because the job was really just button pushing. You also saw what used to be 3, 4, or 5 chips merged into one which greatly simplified board level design and made that part of the board reusable because you were never going to mess with a mix of chips.

    I still keep in touch with my old colleagues and I don't see it changing any time soon. I still keep hearing stories about how these people hot let go because of a new tool. These people got cut because that got moved to India. These people got cut because we just decided to use this standard interface or an off the shelf component instead.
    If anything I'm sort of surprised it hasn't happened a little quicker.

  • by ebno-10db ( 1459097 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:57AM (#45984727)

    As long as Americans continue to elect politicians that worship companies and the "free market" over their own countries interests you are going to continue to lose out ...

    Free market? You're kidding, right? That's a line for the suckers. With tax rules that encourage outsourcing and tax capital gains lower than earned income, corporate subsidies, excessive government granted monopolies (known euphemistically and inaccurately as "intellectual property"), and a host of other abuses, the last thing we have is a free market.

    As far as "worship", the only thing politicians worship is bribes (e.g. campaign "contributions" and cushy revolving door jobs).

  • by ebno-10db ( 1459097 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:12AM (#45984819)

    it seems that engineering is on a sharp decline in the US. I know there are a lot of very competent and skilled engineers in the US, but there are also a lot of very bad ones

    And you think that's any different elsewhere, or in any other field?

    engineering is on a sharp decline in the US ... seem to have been betrayed by the education system

    No. We have some of the world's best engineering schools. I've also known some excellent EE's that graduated from Podunk Tech. I've known a few that never graduated. I don't mean to diminish the value of a good university education, but with the possible exception of a few very theory intensive specialties, it's not the most important thing. At least as valuable are an interest, an aptitude, and learning the craft from good mentors after you graduate.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:22AM (#45984879)

    This stuff has been going on for a long time; as someone in a comment above said, any smart engineer could have told you decades ago that this was going to happen, because manufacturing was being offshored, and where manufacturing goes, so does engineering eventually. The NSA flap only happened a few months ago; that's not remotely enough time to have a noticeable effect on this stuff.

  • by JWW ( 79176 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @10:09AM (#45985329)

    I remember in the 90's they told EE's in school at the time about how there was going to be huge shortages of engineers in the field because of the boomers retiring.

    Interesting to note how that did not come to be.

    Now our politicians need to shut the hell up about needing to encourage millions to go into STEM fields.

    Fool me once, shame on you.

"Oh my! An `inflammatory attitude' in alt.flame? Never heard of such a thing..." -- Allen Gwinn, allen@sulaco.Sigma.COM