This year’s survey revealed several promising indicators for renewed optimism in the U.S. job market. Among the respondents in the survey:
- Almost two-thirds (63.4%) rated the long-term outlook for engineers as good to excellent
- Only slightly more than one-third (34.1%) of the engineers surveyed cited national economic conditions as a barrier to re-employment, a decline from 44% in the 2014 survey
- Although the number is still high, somewhat fewer people became unemployed during 2014 due to layoffs–63.3%–down from 67.5% last year
In the 2015 survey, almost one third (32%) had been re-employed, slightly better than the 30.5% of respondents in 2014. But only 15.3% are working full-time as a technical professional, 5% are working part-time, and 3.4% are now employed as other than a technical professional. Less than a tenth (8.3%) were self-employed.
The IEEE-USA Employment & Career Services Committee has conducted the survey since 1995, repeating it frequently, in a continuing effort to understand the issues of unemployment among U.S. IEEE members. This year, online surveys were sent to 3,414 U.S. members who had reported being unemployed during the 2014 membership year. Exactly 818 were returned, representing a 24% response rate. Data collection began on 16 March and ended on 5 April.
In a close parallel to the 2014 and 2013 Employment Surveys, this year’s participants represented proportionately identical sections of the United States: Nearly a third (30.7%) were in the West; precisely 19% were in the Northeast; 14.8% were in the Southwest; 14.3% were in the East; 12.4% were in the Southeast; and 8.8% were in the Central United States. There were also similarities in education; this year, 37.2% reported having BS/BSEEs, or other Baccalaureate degrees; 35.8% held MS/MSEEs, or other Masters’ degrees, and 18.3% had Ph.Ds.
The overwhelming majority of participants were male (89.1%), with a median age of 56. Compared to the 2014 report, respondents reported having far more years of professional experience: 8.5% reported having 40 years or more (compared to 4.4% in 2014), and 44.5% reported 30-39 years of experience (compared to 21.2% in 2014).
Either at the time of the survey, or just before they became unemployed, 18.9% of respondents worked in computers, 13.6% in communications, and 11.8% in electrical/electronics manufacturing. Close to two thirds (63.3%) were laid off from their last position, with a business downturn the most frequently cited reason (51.2%). The second most frequently selected answer, “Other,” included the completion of a project, the end of a contract, restructuring, or a lack of or change in funding. More than half (53.6%) of respondents’ most recent positions depended at least partly on government contracts or funds. Exactly 25% of this group described these positions as totally or primarily dependent.
Considering total compensation, benefits, quality of life, and related aspects, 58.2% of respondents who have been re-employed indicated their new positions are worse than the positions they held just prior to their periods of unemployment. Immediately before unemployment, the median respondent salary was $115,000; once re-employed, the median salary was close to $90,000. On the other hand, more than a fifth (22.7%) indicated their current position was either better, or much better.
When employed, 76.1% of respondents received healthcare insurance; one in five (19.7%) regained it after being re-employed. Dental insurance, the second most frequently provided benefit while employed (64.6%), dropped to just 16% among those who had been re-employed.
When asked to select the descriptions that most closely matched their employment search and results, 56.3% of the respondents indicated it was difficult to find a new job. Further, 44.9% said they had not yet found one.
Not surprising, most participants (76.1%) saw age as a barrier to employment or re-employment. More than a third (34.1%) said their geographic preferences and national economic conditions (33.7%) are barriers.
As in past years, job search techniques and their perceived effectiveness remains one of the most interesting aspects of the IEEE-USA Employment Survey. Consistent with the 2014 report, the majority used five of the seven most common techniques, with networking (80.8%), and responding to Internet or print job postings (78.7%) most popular. Slightly less than half (46%) were aware that IEEE-USA offers employment assistance services.
Despite being unemployed during at least some part of 2014, most respondents (83.2%) said they want to remain in their primary technical area, and 66.3% are not contemplating moving out of the engineering profession entirely. The majority (72.8%) do not contemplate returning to school again, while six percent plan to return full-time and 22.2%, part-time.
Finally, participants were divided on whether they would recommend the engineering profession to their child: 43.4% said they would, but 27.5% indicated they would not and 29.1% were unsure.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.