Employers Facing Engineering Talent Shortage

Posted By Terri Williams on April 14, 2016 at 5:06 pm
Employers Facing Engineering Talent Shortage

For the eighth consecutive year, engineers are included on the annual list of the U.S. Top 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill, according to ManpowerGroup. As a result, Experis Engineering (a division of Manpower Group) released an extensive report that provides more information about the demand and supply relationship in this industry.  Some of the most interesting tidbits are listed below:

Across all industries, roughly 32% of U.S. employers say they struggle to fill positions. However:

  • 82% of employers who hire engineers struggle to fill open positions
  • 95% of employers plan to hire engineers in 2016, but 20% of employers are not confident their efforts will be successful

 Top 5 hiring needs

Demand has changed since 2015. Last year, mechanical engineers were in 5th place, electrical engineers were in 1st place, and chemical engineers and control systems engineers were not in the top 5.

1 Mechanical engineers
2 Electrical engineers
3 Manufacturing engineers
4 Chemical engineers
5 Control systems engineers


Top 5 hiring challenges

A shortage of applicants isn’t the only issue employers face. These are the top 5 hiring challenges:

1 Lack of experience
2 Lack of applicants
3 Lack of hard job skills/technical skills
4 Salary demands too high
5 Lack of soft skills/workplace competencies


Engineers on the move

Employers may also have a problem keeping the engineers that they do have. When asked about their plans for 2016, existing engineers reported:

41% Actively seeking new positions
28% May look for new jobs/exploring what’s out there
19% Intend to stay in current position
12% Not likely to change positions


When engineers were specifically asked about changing positions, their responses were as follows:

34% Intend to change employers
34% On the fence about changing employers
16% Not likely to change employers
16% Intend to stay with current employer


Top 5 considerations

So what’s important to engineers looking for new positions?

1 Salary, bonuses and/or incentives
2 Health benefits
3 Worklife balance
4 Work environment/culture
5 Professional training and career development


While many engineers may be thinking about changing jobs, they like the field of engineering:

  • 35% are extremely satisfied with engineering as a career
  • 44% are satisfied with engineering as a career
  • 45% are extremely likely to remain in the field of engineering for the duration of their career
  • 39% are very likely to remain in the field of engineering for the duration of their career
  • 41% are extremely likely to recommend engineering as a career
  • 41% are very likely to recommend engineering as a career

According to our two experts, there are three major – and several interdependent – factors that contribute to the engineering talent shortage.

Mutual disappointment

Finding engineers isn’t the only issue – or even the top issue. Even when companies find applicants with the necessary credentials, they may encounter problems. Dennis Theodorou, JMJ Phillip Executive Search’s vice president of operations and an executive search expert tells GoodCall, “Salary becomes an issue when the supply/demand curve boosts all salaries, even of those in the bottom 50% of the graduating group.”

Theodorou says recent grads from top engineering schools may demand $65,000 to $90,000 salaries. And, some companies don’t mind shelling out this type of money if they are hiring graduates who were at the top of their class. “However, when someone in the bottom 50% of their class, with a lower GPA, maybe no internships, et cetera is still asking for $75,000 – just because the market is so short on talent, the company may end up being disappointed that they spent so much money on a mediocre employee.”

Employers and employees may also have different expectations. When companies hire a “Brainiac,” Theodorou says this person may be an introvert who wants to be left alone to do their work. However, studies show that companies also want employees who have developed their soft skills. “The engineer that is somewhat of an extrovert, or even just an ambivert, can grow so much faster as they are able to work with teams in a better capacity and play the office politics game a little better.”

Education and experience mismatch

For employers, some of the disappointment may be based on perceived expectations of the core skills that engineers can bring to the table. Tel Ganesan of Kyyba, an international engineering and IT recruitment firm, tells GoodCall that companies have evolved, advanced and progressed, but our education system is not developing at the same tempo.

Ganesan explains, “For example, many small- and medium-sized companies do not provide on-the-job training and, instead, want employees to hit the ground running, but unfortunately, the skill sets that allow them to do their job in such a manner are not being taught at school. This is a problem around the globe, not just in the U.S.”

And he says that some of the large companies – the type of organization that hires grads from well-known schools – are more likely to be able to devote training and shadowing time. However, smaller companies that don’t hire grads from big-name schools usually don’t have this luxury.

In addition, Ganesan says, “I have found that the education system has created ‘paper tigers’ (which look tough on paper and have the degrees, but can’t do anything in the real world) and not “real tigers,’ which is what we need.” He believes these graduates are not prepared to work in the real world and explains that a degree does not necessarily make a person employable.

Creating interest in engineering

The third major problem is figuring out how to create the desire for students to pursue engineering as a profession. Theodorou believes the engineering talent shortage problem starts in high school. “We can track through our own interview questions how and why people pick their majors or why they changed their major 2,3,4 times,” And he says that students who didn’t like or didn’t excel in math were not likely to pursue an engineering degree – and the exceptions to this ended up changing their major.

“Another trait that we see is that those in engineering are often naturally curious, and you probably cannot make someone be curious – you either are or you’re not,” argues Theodorou.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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