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Take the Money, But Don't Run

Take the Money, But Don't Run

Worried about job security and salary stagnation in the engineering ranks? Then just get a hold of a new scheme being cooked up by the Labor and Commerce Department.

According to the New York Times, the new pilot program is intended to provide aid to unemployed workers who find a new job at a lower pay scale.

"For eligible workers . . . the government will pay the difference in wages for up to two years," explained NYT writer Daniel Altman in his column, the New Economy (NYT 07.28.03). The theory is that the extra cash will help workers get training that will help them secure new positions in other industries.

Economists may like the idea. But this kind of underemployment insurance sounds like a really bad idea to me, at least for the engineering community.

Given the significant number of lay-offs in the engineering ranks in recent years, it's an issue that could hit home for many of you. (We've written extensively about pink slips for engineers; check out the archives for the 02.03.03 and 04.07.03 issues at www.designnews.com.)

I don't believe that engineers should be bribed into leaving the profession and settling for a lucrative career in, say, the service industry. After all, when the economy does improve, that simply makes it easier for companies to hire less experienced workers at lower salaries or for them to outsource all those engineering jobs to India. I hear that engineers over there are willing to work for $5,900 ("Where the good jobs are going," Time Magazine, 08.04.03).

What engineers should be allowed to do is use the money to go back to school and improve and update their technical skills-to get back into engineering. That way, when the job market does bounce back (and if history is any indicator, it will), they'll be better positioned to compete, and they will be competing for higher caliber engineering jobs. Sorry, but if your skill set is limited to just designing left-handed widgets for a machine, there is a real possibility that some day your job will be done by somebody overseas who has a smaller mortgage payment than you have.

Alternatively, why not let entrepreneurial engineers who lose their jobs use the money to start up their own businesses? Our SLANT columnist this month (page 18) says that's already happening, with engineers specializing in areas of technical expertise that companies aren't necessarily willing to invest in internally.

So here is my advice: Take the money. Just don't run from engineering.

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