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Highly Qualified Engineers Having Trouble Finding Work

Highly Qualified Engineers Having Trouble Finding Work

William Ketel is no stranger when it comes to the pink slip. The 62-year-old out-of-work engineer from Michigan has been laid off 10 times that he can remember, twice by Chrysler.

 "My present unemployed situation, the end of my contract with Methode Electronics Div., came about when the research project I was supporting was canceled," Ketel says. "The layoff was part of a 10-person staff reduction, allegedly to reduce costs. That explanation smells a bit off, since three weeks earlier, the CEO had called a corporate-wide meeting to tell everybody that Methode did not have any money problems and that we were doing OK."

That was in November. Since then, Ketel says he has had one "serious" job interview with a competitor company of one of his previous employers. "I sensed it would be a short interview when the first question was ‘how old are you?'" he says. "That was the one question that I was not prepared for, and so I answered truthfully. The interview lasted about 15 minutes. I never got a call back."

(In this case, honesty is not always the best policy. According to the human resources section of, it is illegal to ask a prospective employee questions about their age, race/ethnicity, religion, disability and marital status, among others.)

Ketel says he has learned to take his out-of-work status in stride, but this time is different because he is competing against younger engineers for fewer positions. In fact, a recent IEEE study on unemployment and age, cited by sister publication EDN, states each additional year of ages adds about 3.5 weeks to the duration  of unemployment.

Ketel, who has been "diligently looking for a really good job" since the layoff, says he's not having a lot of success. "Engineers are easy to get rid of whenever things get a little tight," he says.

In the meantime, Ketel, who has a BSEE from Lawrence Institute of Technology, and his wife, who works in high school food service, are living off their savings and the little money Ketel earns doing freelance work. One job includes writing for Design News. He is also currently quoting a project for a major auto company, but declined to reveal which one.

He says he believes his reputation will help him find a new job. "I do have a bit of a reputation and my name is on an awful lot of drawings," says Ketel, whose resume lists an impressive set of skills and includes jobs from as far back as 1993. Before working for Methode, Ketel was a customer service engineer with Delphi Diesel Aftermarket, Hartridge Group. Prior to that, he served as chief electrical engineer at Global Test Engineering Services and J.E. Myles Inc.'s Control Power Reliance LLC.

Kenneth Ingold, a 53-year-old chemical engineer, has been living off his savings since being laid off from a major tobacco company "without explanation" in 2004. The company was patenting his work when he was let go. "I tried to get unemployment after my savings ran low," he says. "They reduced my benefits because I waited to file until I needed the money."

Ingold, who holds a BSChe from North Carolina State University, says he searches the Internet every day, but has had no luck finding employment. He tried to start a company, but the high gas prices stalled that project. "Head hunters will not answer me," he says. "I have had zero response to applications."

From 1978 to 1980, Ingold worked as a quality control engineer for General Tire in Charlotte, NC, but most of his experience comes from his time at Lorillard Research in Greensboro, NC, where he worked from 1980 to 2004. There, he, among other things, developed personal computer systems, including a vision system, calorimeter, warehouse fumigation monitoring with wireless networking and plant-wide DDC controls for primary processing. He also gained experience with sensors, humidity and gas monitoring, and air flow controls.

Ketel, who is eligible for early retirement, but is just not interested, says he has widened his scope of potential employment areas over the last few months, even looking at positions in plant maintenance and the infrastructure maintenance departments of local hospitals.

Most of his early employment experience was as an electrical project engineer designing controls and instrumentation for industrial test machines. To increase his value to employers, Ketel also educated himself in mechanical design, hydraulics, pneumatics and kinematics. "I also studied chemistry a bit, as it relates to corrosion and materials compatibility," he says. "I also worked with various shop people and learned to operate the mill and lathe."

Over the years, Ketel schooled himself in the art of technical writing and completed Allen Bradley PLC programming courses. He also took courses in robotic programming. He is proficient in AutoCAD, MSWord, Excel and PLC program development.

"What I have done is pursue a few customers that I have done contract consulting for in the past," he says. "I have also signed up with LinkedIn and I am not really certain what it is supposed to do for me. I have made contact with a few old friends, which is nice, but it has not been helpful job-wise."

For their part, some recruiters believe that social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook is one of the best things job-seekers can do (see sidebar).

Ketel says also has received e-mails from a man in Texas and there is possibly a job there if Ketel wants it, but he is not interested in ripping up roots. His only son is a teacher in Minnesota.

"I have cut way back on discretionary spending and I haven't bought any toys. We've only been out to eat once since I've been laid off," Ketel says. "Unlike many others, I saw this coming quite a while back and so I was never living at the edge of my income. I also avoided having much I the line of outstanding debt."

Ketel, who says he has always been a saver, had planned to retire at age 66 or 67, but those plans are now on hold. "If it gets too tight, I will retire and collect Social Security, but that's certainly not the plan," he says. "I'm fairly optimistic that I will find something as soon as the economy turns a little. It's no longer the catastrophic end-of-the-world feeling when you are suddenly out of a job. You learn to cope with it."

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