Engineers have taken a big employment hit in this economy and we’ve wondered aloud if that will hurt the state’s long-term economic health.
On Thursday, we’ll be looking for some evidence of a jobs turnaround in manufacturing, a major employer of engineers, when the latest Minnesota jobless numbers are released.
First, though,we checked in with Mary Detloff, executive director of the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers. She’s updated us a couple of times this year on the state of the business. “The entire design and construction industry has been hit hard,” she told us this week, but, “in my opinion, the general mood is more optimistic.”
From what I’ve been hearing from engineers and other association colleagues, the engineering community in large part is still feeling the effects of the tough economy. However, I have heard of companies who are doing fine, and we’ve started seeing a few job postings here and there from those that are hiring again. There are other companies who are running very lean, and some that are still forced to lay off employees. So I would say the industry has not yet recovered, yet I don’t get quite the same less-than-optimistic vibe from engineers, both from those who are working/looking for work and those who are in positions to hire.
The sectors that hire the most engineers — manufacturing, construction, transportation — have been among the worst hit in Minnesota with more than 70,000 jobs lost the past year.
So while Detloff’s insights and other stories give us reason to hope, that job loss leaves a lot of ground to make up.
Stories like Erik Hare’s still keep us concerned about the future.
Hare, a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, worked for 16 years as a chemical engineer before taking a company buyout in 2003. Since then, “I had a few things here and there in the field, some temp lab work and a year doing research at the U before I gave up on it completely. My name is on nine patents, two listed as first name, but those and $3 won’t even buy you a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s.”
He’s held a variety of jobs since then, including writer, salesman and internet consultant.
Of his engineering class of 40 graduating in 1987 from Carnegie Mellon University, Hare says he knows of only 12 still working as engineers in some capacity. “I’d love to do it again, but there are no jobs in the field.”
He doesn’t see a place for engineers in the American economy given how much of the U.S. manufacturing base has gone elsewhere. “I have some hope,” he adds, “that there will be room for those of us who want to be productive. But it may be too late for me.”