As US employment finally tops pre-recession peak and the jobless rate falls to 6.3% talk turns to how best in class companies will deal with the looming shortage of engineers.  According to a 2010 Pew research study, roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 18 years and this increase in retires will leave more openings in technical fields than there are people to fill them.  A recent Aberdeen Group survey found that over 60% of over 500 companies polled feel understaffed in their engineering positions.

Engineers play a critical role in the success of companies that design, manufacture or deliver products.  Since new product development provided by engineers is key to a company’s future revenue, it is vital for an engineering team to be effective.  But since many of the benefits of investing in a technical workforce are long term and can be indirect and hard to trace, it is becoming increasing difficult to justify increasing engineering budgets.

These competing issues of less engineering talent being available and decreasing budgets for engineering teams mean companies need to take new approaches to fill their engineering needs.  Companies looking to successfully win the fight against this growing staffing problem should:

  • Keep your current engineers happy – With a limited supply of talent and the difficulty in getting new hire trained up to the position, the best option is to keep the great talent you already have.  Increasing satisfaction through compensation and other means should be a priority.
  • Provide training – Making the engineers you have and the new engineers you hire have better training increases productivity and job satisfaction at the same time.
  • Utilize technology to deal with inevitable worker loss –  Of course there is no replacement for talent and experience but new technology like Product Lifecyle Management (PLM) and knowledge management processes that allow existing labor to be more efficient and new hire to get up to speed as fast as possible.
  • Automate as much technical labor as possible – Processes and systems that can reduce workload or accelerate decision making or non-value added work can be converted directly into more productivity.
  • Outsource where it makes sense – Use outside engineering resources where their knowledge or technology can be used immediately and efficiently instead of investing capital and effort to develop these resources in-house where they may be used infrequently or have expensive cost to acquire.

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