That Old, Familiar Feeling: More Grim Unemployment Numbers for U.S. IEEE Members

That Old, Familiar Feeling: More Grim Unemployment Numbers for U.S. IEEE Members

BY Helen Horwitz Posted: 5 Feb 2015

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” the inimitable Yogi Berra once proclaimed.

The same can also be said for much of the 2014 IEEE-USA Employment Survey results. While unemployment is no laughing matter, the baseball great’s memorably mangled quote certainly applies to the recent survey conducted among U.S. members who reported being jobless in 2013.

Nearly seven in ten respondents (69.6%) reported they were not employed at the time they participated in this year’s study. This compares with 63.3% who were unemployed at the time the survey was taken in 2013.

In the 2014 survey, about a third (30.5%) of respondents had been re-employed, almost the same (30.1%) as in 2013. But only 15.3% are working full-time and another 5.3% are working part-time as technical professionals. Considering total compensation, benefits, quality of life and related aspects of their new positions, almost two-thirds indicated their current positions are worse (33.6%) or much worse (31.9%) than the positions they held just prior to their periods of unemployment.

The IEEE-USA Employment & Career Services Committee has conducted the survey since 1995, repeating it frequently in a continuing effort to understand different aspects of unemployment among IEEE’s U.S. members. This year, online surveys were sent to 3,993 who reported being unemployed during the 2013 membership year. Exactly 1,226 surveys were returned, representing a 30.7% response rate. Data collection began on 7 January and ended on 28 February.

In an almost exact parallel to the 2013 Employment Survey, this year’s participants represented identical sections of the U.S.: A third (33.7%) were in the West; precisely 20% were in the Northwest; 13.4% were in the Southwest; 13.1% were in the East; 10.1% were in the Southwest and 10.1% in the Central U.S. There were also similarities in education; this year, 37.2% reported having a BS/BSEE or other Baccalaureate, 35.8% held an MS/MSEE or other Masters and 16.1% had a Ph.D.

More than three-fourths (76.9%) of those participating this year were between the ages of 50 and 69; members less than 40 years of age comprised only 8.5% of the participants, while those 70 and above totaled just .7%.

Either at the time of the survey or just before they became unemployed, respondents worked in computers (16.2%), electrical/electronics manufacturing (14.5%) and communications (12.4%). Again, this compares almost exactly with 2013 responses. More than two-thirds (67.5%) reported being laid off from their last position, with business downturn (55.1%) by far the most reported reason. Over half (55.5%) of the respondents’ most recent positions depended at least partly upon government contracts or funds.

Members who said they had been re-employed as fulltime technical professionals were distinct from the unemployed, especially in their age. At 49.3 years, the mean age of re-employed fulltime professionals was among the youngest of the respondents. However, median salaries had dropped 20.9% -- from $110,000 prior to unemployment to $91,000. Moreover, 59% of the respondents reported that before becoming unemployed they were receiving at least four benefits – such as health, dental and vision care insurance and a 401K plan – either fully or partly paid by the employer; however, once re-employed, only 14.9% were receiving at least four benefits. The good news is that the percentage of respondents who did not receive any benefits once re-employed has dropped significantly in recent years – from 69.6% in 2010 to only 9.7% in 2014. This decline is nearly the same as last year’s (9.9%).

Not surprising, the connection between age and employment opportunities remains a key concern among out-of-work engineers, with more than three-quarters (76.9%) who see age as the greatest barrier to unemployment. National economic conditions were the second most frequently mentioned concern, although the percentage is dropping. In 2014, 44% said national economic conditions were to blame; this statistic is down from 51.4% in 2013 and 57.5% in 2011.

As in 2013, job search techniques and their perceived effectiveness remains one of the most interesting aspects of the IEEE-USA Employment Survey. When asked which of seven customary job search techniques they had used and how well each worked for them, the majority had used five of the seven. Respondents most frequently used networking and responding to Internet or print job postings (90.1% and 88.9%, respectively.) In addition, while they were likely to continue using these techniques, the majority of respondents did not think many of them are effective. Only networking received a mean score above 5.0 on the 9-point rating scale. Using a headhunter was rated second most effective, with a mean of just 4.1. Some 69 respondents entered a different technique they had used; 10 of them (14%) said they had used LinkedIn, the business-oriented social networking service.

Remarkably, nearly six in 10 (57.8%) respondents were unaware that IEEE-USA offers employment assistance services. This number is up from 52.7% in the 2013 Employment Survey!

Finally, despite their lack of employment, most respondents (80.2%) want to remain in their primary technical area, and 70.8% do not contemplate moving out of the engineering profession entirely. This year’s respondents also are slightly less likely to recommend their profession to a child than in 2013 – 43.9% versus 45.9%, respectively. This year, a smaller proportion of respondents judged the long-term demand for engineers as excellent or good – 60.1% in 2014, versus 61.1% in 2013.

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Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991-2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.

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