Remember going to your high school dance when you were 15? Regardless of who your date was, your fantasy was to spend the whole night dancing with different partners, hoping to hold the hand of the most popular person when the music stopped and the lights came on.
In 1999, that fantasy was reality for the country's largest employers of engineers, listed in Design News' annual compilation of manufacturers, the DN 100. The names of our Top 10 companies haven't changed much in recent years, according to the rankings. But their compositions have changed a great deal, in a frantic mix of mergers, acquisitions, and buyouts.
Lucent has been on a buying spree, Allied Signal plans a merge with Honeywell, EMC bought Data General, Hewlett-Packard spun off Agilent, and Varian split into three parts. Recently, CBS bought most of Westinghouse, and General Dynamics bought part of GTE. And the final implications of last years' mega-mergers are far from clear: Boeing-McDonnell-Douglas, Daimler-Chrysler, and Compaq-Tandem-Digital were three monster impacts whose ripples will be spreading through their industries for years.
Manufacturers have been so busy merging, partnering, and otherwise doing deals that we've had to estimate employment at some firms. Those estimates are based on 1998 figures.
Predicting all these changes is as effective as herding cats. So what does it mean for you, the individual engineer? We surveyed dozens of engineering companies, sorting through piles of data on new products, sales figures, job outlooks, and salary prospects and benefits. And we found plenty of "downsizing," "rightsizing," and "eliminating redundancies."
But then we discovered an unintended side effect.
"It's definitely an employees' market," says Tom Long, a staffing consultant at Biogen Inc., a Boston biotech research firm. "The big trend over the next five years is that companies have core employees who are generalists, then they'll hire specialists to come in for a year or so and move on to another company."
After a bout of downsizing, a company is often left with a skeleton crew of "generalists." So when it lands a new contract or tries to develop a new product, the company must search for the technical specialists it just fired, and lure them back with generous offers.
A driving force behind this trend is the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, Long says. There's a lot of engineers who are 50 or 60 years old, with lots of experience and big paychecks. So when companies go looking for experienced employees, they have to make big offers to lure those Boomers away. But recent college graduates, with minimal experience, will take jobs for less money, and are more willing to move to new locations.
"We're currently looking to hire; it's that time of year for college recruiting," says Clinton Sledge, a human resources specialist at Maytag's Iowa location. "There's no shortage of skilled people, these folks are in abundance."
The best place to find a new job? If you have specialized skills and years of experience, you're probably already taking phone calls from headhunters. But if you just framed that new degree and you still need to pay off the college loans, check the recruitment section that follows this story. And see our Annual Careers Issue, to be published July 3, 2000, which will show where the highest salaries are.
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