If you think the job market is bad here, you should talk to engineers in Russia. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, tens of thousands of engineers—up until then guaranteed jobs for life—were tossed out into the street, with no security and little in the way of any job prospects. Except maybe driving a cab.
For this month's cover story on one of post-Soviet-Russia's greatest engineering success stories—a startup company operated by a group of former aerospace engineers from the top technical universities in the country—I had an opportunity to visit and talk with many of them. The more fortunate engineers have found jobs with private companies like PAX, a manufacturer of amusement park rides and the subject of our cover story (see page 60).
Wages, however, are relatively low: A Russian engineer with ten years of experience or more can expect to earn about $1,500 to $2,000 a month, plus even some benefits—though not on the scale of what U.S. employees enjoy. An entry-level engineer fresh out of one of the country's top technical universities will bring home around $600 to $700 a month.
At those prices and the available technical talent, it's little wonder that some U.S. companies are looking here and elsewhere overseas to outsource their engineering and design work. (Though interestingly enough, PAX says it cannot compete on price due to the exorbitantly high tax rates in Russia.) SPEEA, the union that represents 22,300 technical and professional employees at The Boeing Company in several states, is incensed over the aerospace giant's decision to move hundreds of technical and engineering jobs to a design center in Moscow. IBM, too, recently opened a design center in India.
The big question is this: Will the trend continue? Probably not to the extent that manufacturing jobs are going overseas, simply because the engineering capabilities required to take all the outsourced bits and pieces and integrate them together are significant. Unless firms themselves are planning to physically relocate, they are not likely to move all their high-level engineering and design work elsewhere.
On the other hand, there is a real possibility that any type of engineering job that requires only a limited skill set and falls under the category of "routine," may one day soon be done by someone who is currently driving a cab.