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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 Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @01:48AM (#45982955)

    A lot of EEs used to be needed to design discrete circuits. Nowadays most of that probably gets implemented in SW. So maybe not so many are needed any more?

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @01:48AM (#45982959)

    There are still jobs out there for power engineers - I have a friend that works at a construction engineering firm and they have trouble finding qualified and experienced electrical engineers to fill some positions.

    I'd imagine that a lot of electronics design work has been outsourced to the same companies that are building the electronics, and probably a lot of the tricky electrical design work has been replaced by digital electronics. Using a 16Mhz microcontroller might be overkill to read at a few analog inputs to generate some outputs, but your offshore manufacturer can likely use an off-the-shelf design to implement it for less than the cost of using discrete chips.

  • by RightwingNutjob ( 1302813 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @01:55AM (#45982991)
    I've worked with degree'd EE types who seem to have gotten their degrees in protoboard tinkering and not much more. Technically they're EE's, but soft math skills and limited design capabilities beyond plugging IC's together. Maybe 10-20 years ago, there was a place for them to support the Real Engineers. Today, you buy a plug-and-play PLC-like device or Labview box for a few thousand, and suddenly a lot of the work that used to take one of those degree'd EE can be done fairly reasonably by a technician or an intern.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2014 @01:58AM (#45983009)
    when I say EE is dead. Are you listening now? You have to be completely oblivious and in denial to think there's much of a future in EE. The thing is though, the young people I've met (less than 25 years old) at the hacker space are adamant I'm wrong and that their complete dedication to 3D printing/hardware hacking/robots/recycling will get them a steady job for life.

    EE is a clinic of a field that created its own destruction by being able to relentlessly eliminate circuitry and therefore jobs. Everything can now be done at the atomic level in an IC and done with countless layers of software.

    The exceptions as I see them are power, both AC power distribution and the stuff that drives electric motors from toys to giant machinery. The other field I see is what's called "mechatronics" (which I find an awful word), but probably is more like PLCs and industrial controls.

    Another problem with EE is the fact that I've never seen professional EE associations like they have for accountants or actuaries or lawyers, economists, notaries, etc. Most of what *those* people do is something that could be as easily outsourced as EE work. Notarize a deed? Really? A photocopy and a signature? That's more important than a design?

    And let's face facts, most of what passes as an electrical "engineering" job is just glorified clerical work.

    The writing has been on the wall for a long time, and the wall itself has been built by outsourced labor from second-tier plastic bricks.

  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:20AM (#45983107) Homepage Journal

    Here's some data points, and a question for the economists:

    1) Productivity has been rising for decades. US productivity per capita is about $51,000 [] this year. That's $50,000 per person, including kids and non-working spouses.

    2) Human needs follow a "priority queue" []; meaning, that once a level of need is satisfied there is no further demand. Population needs will plateau and become steady - there is no "infinite demand" for more goods. If you have all the food you need, you don't consume more even if it's free &c.

    2a) And population is stabilizing [] in all industrialized nations. Birth rate less than 2.0 per woman in the US, our population only grows due to immigration. Similar in other industrialized nations.

    Given this data, here's a hypothetical question: Suppose efficiency grows so that the infrastructure could produce all the needs of the population using only 90% of the current workforce.

    Q: What happens to the unneeded 10% workforce?

    For a follow-on, consider Google's self-driving car. There are currently around 3.5 million [] professional truck drivers in the US, which is about 2% of the total work force. This doesn't count delivery vehicles such as FedEx, UPS, or USPS. Very soon this ~3% of the workforce will no longer be needed.

    Q2: Are we already in this "10% is unneeded" situation?

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:24AM (#45983119)

    There are still jobs out there for power engineers - I have a friend that works at a construction engineering firm and they have trouble finding qualified and experienced electrical engineers to fill some positions.

    There are tons of EE jobs out there. Its just that the one everyone wants - the ones related to computers and digital logic, are really popular and many places are churning them out. But, like supply and demand, well, those jobs are also moving offshore because they're portable, and offshore education is getting really good as well.

    However, power engineers, a discipline who has seen the number of members drop steadily to the point where a graduating class may be counted on one hand (if at all! Sometimes there are years with zero graduates) can see good work. Their jobs generally aren't portable, and they deal with all matter of power - from generation, transmission, transformation, etc. Many electric utilities are paying handsomely for fresh graduates because they're hard to get (power engineering isn't very sexy).

    Likewise, you have analog IC designers, a role that's also so short on people, fresh grads can demand 6 figure salaries. Analog IC design is not just stuff like opamps and all that, but mixed-signal ICs, and modern digital ICs often contain analog interfaces. Even "digital" communications often do a lot of analog design (the Ethernet PHY is a mixed-signal chip - the signal comes in as analog and you have to recover a digital signal from that). There's also CMOS sensors for cameras, and many others.

    Then there's RF - which is in demand (think smartphones) - besides IC designs, there's antennas, communications, weak signal, etc.

    Computer and software? Well, there are just too many of them and they're portable.

    There's plenty of jobs out there. And because of shortage of supplies, damn the starting salaries can be double of a computer engineer.

    If you're an analog IC designer with RF experience....

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:37AM (#45983161)

    On the flip side in the real world I haven't used a single piece of advanced mathematics that I endured during my degree. We often joke about how everyone should brace themselves because one of the engineers is reaching for the square root button, but the reality is much of the maths has been replaced by advanced simulation software.

    With simulation software able to calculate all things RF, analogue impedances, filters, interactions between different parts of a circuit due to inductive coupling etc. what is there left to do for an EE that actually requires the practical application of this maths? The only person I know who uses it works for a company which sells simulation software.

    That said your complains are partially true except I think slightly misdirected. It's not core maths that many of the more useless EEs lack but it's a basic understanding and common sense approach to circuit design. They are the type which will pull out the typical application diagram from a datasheet and bolt it down to a circuit board and then complain that the parts have gone up in smoke because they don't understand concepts like stability, feedback, etc. Maths does not save them here. General EE understanding does.

    I know of a perfect example of someone who went through university who got a got high distinction grades in every subject yet can't tell you the difference between a PNP or an NPN transistor. That said after I drew it for her she spat out the complete circuit equation and solved it in minutes. I blame her for my poor math skills :-)

  • Why do you not move? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pablo_max ( 626328 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:56AM (#45983237)

    Seriously, if there is hard to find work in your field, why not move? I don't mean move to Texas or Oregon, but move to Germany or the UK.
    There are loads of engineering openings here in Germany and not enough Germans to fill them. If you are coming from the US to a German company, it is really easy to get a VISA.
    Yes, I know not everyone can do so because of this or that reason, but a lot of people can.

    Do not follow cheap manufacturing. Instead look to countries who spend loads of money on educating their young. Like Germany. It seems like such a basic concept that American politicians and much of the public do not understand; If you do not properly educate your population then eventually the country will collapse. No purely consumer based society is sustainable.

  • EE long in decline (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wansu ( 846 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @03:42AM (#45983411)

    Thirty five years ago, there were at least 50,000 workers employed in electronics manufacturing in the RTP area of NC. I was one of them. I started as an assembler, then as a technician and later as a design engineer. During the 90s, most of these jobs quickly disappeared. Today, there a few small niche players left employing perhaps a few hundred workers. That's it.

    I retrained as a software developer and successfully changed careers. It was difficult.

    I'm not surprised to see reality check stories like this, particularly after being treated to incessant propaganda about shortages of STEM students over the past couple years. This shortage talk has been going on for decades. Yet, no actual shortages of engineers have materialized.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @08:33AM (#45984633)

    You assume the only cost is labor.

    It is not the only cost.

    If labor were the only cost then you'd be correct.

    We can help US competitiveness by doing a few things.

    1. Lower non-labor costs of doing business in the US. Little things like helping companies with environmental and zoning regulations. NOT so they can pollute but so they can operate without being harassed by people using the law to forbid their operation. This sort of thing is very common in California where I live. Whenever people don't want something to be built, they find a species that would be negatively impacted by the construction. Using this method you can shut down anything. It is literally impossible to build anything anywhere on earth without potentially infringing on something's habitat.

    2. Make sure companies can get reasonable access to utilities. Things like water, power, and sewage. Frequently industrial users face problems with the quantities they need being offered at reasonable prices. This is largely the result of many portions of the country not building sufficient water and power facilities such that they have no excess. Data centers have been having a problem with this lately because they can't get enough power from the grid at a competitive rate. This is unacceptable and raises the cost of doing business in the US if you ultimately have to build your own power station etc simply to keep the lights on. Is this the US or north korea? Fix it.

    3. Go through the tax and regulation system and simplify it. I am not saying have them not follow the law or abuse things. Merely make the law easier to understand and less ambiguous. If you look at many companies they spend a not inconsiderable amount on compliance with the law. All of those people hired to do that is overhead. It makes things more expensive and the whole operation less attractive. In the last 10 years the proportion of payroll involved in managing paperwork for federal and state agencies has skyrocketed. Reduce the number of people needed to maintain compliance and the company might be able to operate on a larger scale. Its further not only the money, its the fear, the uncertainty, and the frustration. Corporations are not machines. They're human organizations and they do get annoyed.

    4. Eliminate stupid taxes and fees that don't make any sense. The best example of this would be a tax currently levied against oil refiners for not including enough ethanol in their fuel. The problem is that if refineries put that amount in fuel, it will invalidate the warranty of cars that use it. As a result, they can either produce fuel that is fined or produce fuel that is worthless. Obviously they choose the first option. And the result is that everyone pays more for gas because the federal government is putting a big penalty fee on ALL gas refineries for not doing something that they cannot do. There are many examples of this sort of thing and you'll find specific examples in every industry. Ask a corporate accountant in any industry and they'll give you specifics.

    The point is... the laws are frequently sloppy messes quickly conceived by people that didn't really care and then forgotten. The legal code is the ultimate spaghetti code. And it needs to be rationalized.

  • by masseydvt ( 3503491 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:23AM (#45984887)
    As one of the 35,000 American electrical engineers who was laid off in 2013, I can tell you that my duties at IBM (Ethernet ASIC design) are now being done by two or three Chinese engineers who, combined, earn less than I did. I speculate that American companies do it to save money in the short-term.
  • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Friday January 17, 2014 @09:31AM (#45984951)
    not requiring becoming an EIT to graduate and eventually a PE to practice. Had they followed law and medicine it would be a lot harder to offshore work, and salaries would be higher due to fewer engineers. In addition, like law or medicine engineering schools would have to be accredited so there would be fewer new graduates which also would dive up salaries. Licensing is not about ensuring quality as much as limiting supply and erecting barriers to entry.
  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Friday January 17, 2014 @11:00AM (#45985873)

    You know what I've seen, as a "millennial" (or whatever they call us these days)? All my friends who majored in EE (actually CompE) couldn't get a job in their field. They ended up in IT instead.

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