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Do Tough Employer Words Presage Better Engineering Employment?

Siemens says there's a war for talent out there and they've got 3,000 highly skilled jobs to fill.

A good news, bad news story is emerging regarding jobs for engineers. Me, I've become inured to the consistent management chatter over the past decade that US engineers aren't competitive, that companies can't find engineers with current skills, and that that's why they absolutely, positively need to hire more H-1B workers.

You and I both know that, truth be told, most engineers are more up to speed than the managers who lament their lack of hiring options. Which is why I wasn't initially surprised to read the comments in the Financial Times Sunday from Siemens Corp. (US) CEO Eric Spiegel, who says the company is having a hard time finding staff, despite the US unemployment rate of more than 9 percent. However, upon further investigation, and a back-and-forth with someone at the company, it turns out that Siemens is actually approaching this with an attitude that should improve perceptions about engineers, as well as their employment prospects.

Let's go straight to the transcript, which contains words that sound like more of the same old, same old, but also the elucidation that gives me hope management recognizes the value of US engineers and is willing to work in partnership with them.

In the FT.com story, Spiegel says: "There's a mismatch between the jobs that are available, at least in our portfolio, and the people that we see out there. There is a shortage [of workers with the right skills]."

In retrospect, that shouldn't have set me off. I think what did it was the quote later in the piece from Jeff Joerres, chief executive of the employment agency Manpower. He says: "Employers have a much more sophisticated definition of skill requirements. Workers need to be instantly productive, and that makes a higher bar."

My response to that is what the mom says in the new Oreo Fudge Cremes commercial: "Shut the front door." US engineers are skilled and productive, buddy. Our failing isn't a lack of technical acumen, nor the ability to readjust from analog to digital, COBOL to PHP, or integrated circuits to SoCs. Our problems stem from letting scientifically illiterate others define us as geeks -- that's their fault -- and failing to emulate the powerful lobbying efforts of doctors and lawyers while we bicker over nits in irrelevant engineering societies -- that's our fault.

I was similarly fired up when I went to my Siemens contact to ask for more specifics on what Spiegel was referring to when he said that the workers he needs are hard to find. I should add that Spiegel's remarks came in advance of a planned trip this past Monday by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to a Siemens plant in Ohio. (The trip was cancelled by Geithner for personal reasons.) Geithner's boss, President Obama, has been hitting the stump recently, talking about the need to train 10,000 new engineers a year.

Here's what the Siemens spokesman I queried came back with: "There is a war for talent out there and we have 3,000+ highly skilled positions to fill."

I love that quote. They're the first words I've heard in a long while which position a company as a respectful buyer of the talent it needs to remain competitive. This is precisely how engineers should be addressed, respected, recruited, and nurtured.

There's more. "We're doing our best to engage the next generation of Siemens employees so that we can win the war for talent," the Siemens spokesman said. Specifically, Siemens has 3,200 professional positions open across the United States. The breakdown by business unit is approximately 900 in Siemens' energy businesses, 1000 in healthcare, and nearly 1200 in its industry sector. (The latter comprises production, transportation, lighting, and building technologies.) There are 809 open engineering jobs, 215 in research and development, 216 in IT, 254 in manufacturing operations, 323 in field service, and 419 in sales and support.

To fill those slots, Siemens is hiring an additional 35 recruiters this year. It's also working to target veterans coming out of the military, with a firm goal of hiring at least 300 this year. The company has also started a site called Plantville as an online engagement destination aimed making manufacturing engineering an appealing career choice for college students.

From my perspective, I realize that the fair thing to do is to temper my longtime anger at big businesses' historically ham-handed approach toward engineering employment. I applaud what Siemens is doing. I also recognize that the widely accepted meme that "there aren't enough engineers; they don't have current skills" is what it is. The best way to counter it is to ignore it and just keep innovating. That's my plan, though I somehow doubt I'll be able to stick to it.

If you're interested in the Siemens USA openings, you can check them out at the company's jobs portal, here.

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