Electrical engineering employment trending down

Hiring shows improvement in Q2, but the labor pool is flat

The number of electrical engineers in the workforce has declined over the last decade. It's not a steady decline, and it moves up and down, but the overall trend is not positive.

In 2002 the U.S. had 385,000 employed electrical engineers; in 2004, post dot.com bubble, it was at 343,000. It reached 382,000 in 2006, but has not risen above 350,000 since then, according to U.S. Labor Data.

For sure, there has been a recession, continuing high unemployment, although overall tech employment has been rising.

There are, of course, many occupations in tech that are important to the economy, but electrical engineers are considered among the most important. Electrical engineers are often employed in the development of technologies that can generate new jobs and even industries.

In 2012, there were 335,000 electrical engineers in the workforce, which is an increase of about 25,000 from 2011. But the overall pattern, taken over the years, appears to be trending to a lower number.

There's also been some concern about the data coming out this year. In the first quarter of this year, unemployment for electrical engineers reached 6.5%, a figure the IEEE-USA, at the time, called "alarming."

In the second quarter, ending June 30, the unemployment rate for electrical engineers declined to 4.5%, which remains a high figure for electrical engineers. But what did not really change is the size of the workforce, according to IEEE-USA analysis of the labor data.

Although the unemployment rate fell, the labor data shows little change in the labor pool. In the first quarter of this year there were 295,000 electrical engineers counted in the workforce, and in the second quarter, 292,000, even though employment declined. The annual number will offer a better perspective.

Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco Associates, a research firm that analyzes IT wage and employment trends, said the labor pool decline means that people are leaving the job market.

Some are leaving labor market because they can't find the right jobs, or are retiring, said Janulaitis. A declining labor pool is something to be very concerned about, he said.

"Not only is it a shrinking labor pool, but a shrinking tax base, a shrinking retail base," said Janulaitis.

One electrical engineer, who has been out of work and is seeking a job, was asked what his experience is. He offered this view, on agreement to withhold his name:

"It's an employers market out there. I am getting interviews but, they have numerous candidates to choose from. The employers are very fussy. They are really only interested in a perfect match to their needs. They don't want the cost to develop talent internally. They are even trying to combine positions to save money. I came across one employer trying to combine a mechanical and electrical engineer," he said.

"[Employers] don't seem to like older employees or the long term unemployed. The H1-B program just adds insult to injury. It would be nice to know how many electrical engineers lost their jobs in the last year and how many H1-Bs and L-1s (jobs) went to electrical engineers during the same period," he said. "We electrical engineers are kind of the canary in the coal mind. What's happening to us now, may happen to other STEM fields when the number of visas are increased."

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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