A revealing cartoon in a recent Wall Street Journal says it all. A besuited business man sits on top of a computer, cup in hand, holding a sign that reads, "I have JOBS. Please help!" Without a sideward glance, an obviously uninterested, pony-tailed "cyber dude" strolls by. The cartoonist hit the target. According to the American Electronics Association (AEA), the high-tech industry added close to a quarter of a million new jobs to the U.S. economy between 1995 and 1996. That's a record high for this decade. (For a definition of what high-tech actually means, scroll down and see the sidebar, What's High Tech Anyway?) From the American Electronics Association, John Hatch says unemployment in the Silicon Valley is so low it's almost a nonissue.
"People can get a job at will," he reports. The AEA completed an exhaustive report on high-tech employment state by state.
EEs CALL THE SHOTS
In just about any industry they choose, electrical and electronic BS graduates call the shots in today's job market. Dr. Roger P. Webb, chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, notes that the spectrum of employers for his EE grads covers the gamut of industries. "A lot of that has to do with the dissemination of technology into new applications," he reports. Peter (Pete) McCloskey, president of the Electronic Industries Association (EIA), agrees that EEs will find they won't necessarily be practicing electrical engineering. "They can be consultants, market planners, company developers," he states. Companies as diverse as small start-up electromedical diagnosis firms to entertainment and Internet giants are seeking electrical/electronic engineers from a labor pool that doesn't have enough of them. In fact, the shortage is so critical, companies are becoming very creative in filling positions. In response to the "year 2000" problem, for instance, a North Carolina firm is hiring people with no technical background and training them to write Cobol, says another recent Wall Street Journal item.
CARS WILL RIVAL AIRCRAFT IN ELECTRONICS
Companies are forced to find imaginative solutions to the labor shortage or risk losing money in an immensely profitable business. Says McCloskey, "Electronics profits are two to three times that of our Japanese competitors." Our innovative environment and an entrepreneurial base that turns out new products at an incredible idea-to-market time-line is what keeps the industry humming. Along with the frenzied activity, emerging technologies will fundamentally change the way we live -- intelligent highways, smart homes, the integration of consumer electronics with computers and communications, to name a few. Says McCloskey, "The electronic content of cars isn't as great as airplanes yet, but it soon will be."
MEMs, or miniaturized electro-mechanical systems, are the sensors of the future asserts McCloskey, and are the starting point for so much of the innovation. "There's no limit to what we can envision. Any time you can make a product that fills a need that no one knew they had, then you get a meteoric rise of companies and products." He points to the 50% of products introduced in the last 18 months that are fueled by advances in micro miniaturization. McCloskey cites Moore's Law, which states, "The number of transistors on a chip will double every 18 months." Motorola alone makes a million microprocessors a day in response to bright ideas that found a use for them. Coining his own "McCloskey's Law" McCloskey says, "Electronic products will relentlessly become smaller, more reliable and less expensive as new products develop."
With the boundless possibilities waiting for electrical/electronic BS grads, Hatch raises a word of caution. You are entering a job market that is accelerating at an exponential rate. Get to know the companies, their product lines and where they fit in the industry before you take that running leap. "Because it's so fast-paced, there's not a lot of time to learn about what part you'll play," Hatch advises.
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL EXPLOSION
A prominent hallmark of today's electrical/electronic industry is the increasing number of small and emerging companies cropping up and growing at a phenomenal pace. Just look at the well-established track record of companies that started from ground zero a scant 10 years ago. Today, they're multimillion dollar businesses and household names, observes Peter (Pete) McCloskey, president of Electronic Industries Association. In the electronic and information industry, companies in the early part of the growth cycle had 40% of the initial public offerings last year, McCloskey points out. A reason for this growth, says McCloskey, is that a significant number of budding entrepreneurs strike out on their own because they eventually can find a place for their ideas in the burgeoning electronics industry. "Companies can't fund every research project," offers McCloskey, "so the people who believe in their ideas seek capital to go and prove their point. That's why the industry is so vital." With the investment climate in the U.S. so profitable, entrepreneurs are able to get the money and run with it. A lot of entrepreneurs are located around top-notch schools. Stanford and MIT are two hotbeds for innovation, as is the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, to the Silicon Gulch surrounding the University of Texas in Austin. The question for graduating electrical/electronic engineers is do they want to trade the semisecurity of established firms for blazing new trails with a start-up? In this industry, both are appealing and viable choices.
TOP TEN HIGH-TECH STATES IN 1996
- 1. California - 724,181
- 2. Texas - 341,193
- 3. New York - 306,303
- 4. Illinois - 198,720
- 5. Massachusetts - 197,407
- 6. Florida - 184,009
- 7. New Jersey - 168,323
- 8. Pennsylvania - 151,183
- 9. Virginia - 137,183
- 10. Georgia - 124,868
Reprinted courtesy of the American Electronics Association. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Covered Employment and Wages.
WHAT'S HIGH-TECH ANYWAY?
The term high tech has been thrown around for years, but does anybody know what it really means? The American Electronic Association prepared a report to find out. Covering the U.S. state by state, the AEA looked at what government agencies, private companies and other trade associations define as high tech. They found no consensus, but after extensive research came up with the following list of their own.
AEA'S DEFINITION OF THE HIGH-TECH INDUSTRY
- Manufacturing Computers and Office Equipment, Electronic Computers,
Computer Storage Devices, Computer Terminals, Computer Peripherals, Calculating
and Accounting Machines Office Machines
- Consumer ElectronicsHousehold Audio and Video Equipment, Phonographic
Records and Prerecorded Tapes and Disks
- Communications Equipment Telephone and Telegraph Apparatus, Radio and
TV Broadcast and Communications Equipment, Other Communications Equipment
- Electronic Components and Accessories Electron Tubes, Printed Circuit
Boards, Electronic Capacitors, Electronic Resistors, Electronic Coils, Transformers
and Inductors, Electronic Connectors, Other Electronic Components
- Semiconductors Semiconductors and Related Devices
- Industrial ElectronicsLaboratory Apparatus, Environmental Controls, Process
Control Instruments, Fluid Meters and Counting Devices, Instruments to Measure
Electricity, Laboratory Analytical Instruments, Other Measuring and Controlling
- Photonics Optical Instruments and Lenses, Photographic Equipment and Lenses
- Defense ElectronicsSearch and Navigation Systems, Instruments and
- Electromedical Equipment X-Ray Apparatus and Tubes and related Irradiation Apparatus, Electromedical and Electrotherapeutic Apparatus
SOFTWARE AND COMPUTER-RELATED SERVICES
- Computer Programming Services Prepackaged Software, Computer Integrated Systems Design, Computer Processing and Data Preparation, Information Retrieval Services, Computer Facilities Management Services, Computer Rental and Leasing, Computer Maintenance and Repair, Other Computer-Related Services
- Radiotelephone CommunicationsTelephone Communications, Telegraph and Other Message Communications, Cable and Other Pay Television Services, Other Communications Services