Sunday, December 9, 2012

Career Opportunities

Although unemployment is at the highest level since 1983, today’s college graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are not having problems finding work. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) reports an average Computer Science graduate received 2.4 offers and the mean starting salary is $68,650. At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the job outlook is equally rosy with 95% of this year’s CS students had jobs waiting for them upon graduation. Companies are being a little choosier, but they are still hiring.

According to projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computing will be one of the fastest growing job markets through 2018. Employment of software engineers, computer scientists, and network, database, and systems administrators is expected to grow between 24%-32% through 2018. They account for 71% of new jobs among the STEM fields. For a discipline that is still struggling with the public perception that its jobs are migrating off-shore, such career predictions offer an important counterpoint.

Of the new jobs, according to BLS projections, 27% will be in software engineering, 21% in computer networking, and 10% in systems analysis. Software engineering alone is expected to add nearly 300,000 jobs in the next eight years.

Computer programmers will fare less well, with a projected decline in employment of 3% through 2018. The BLS cites advances in programming tools, as well as offshore outsourcing as contributing factors in this decline. Nonetheless, the federal agency predicts employers will continue to need some local programmers, especially ones with strong technical skills. And many companies, having discovered that outsourcing is more challenging to manage than anticipated, are turning to domestic outsourcing to complete their programming projects, which is a trend the BLS expects to continue.

College students seem to have picked up on that optimism, and are returning to the field after a steep six-year decline caused by the dot-com crash. The troubled economy has played a role in the uptick. Though the computer industry experienced a wave of layoffs at the height of the recession, it has been hit less hard than other sectors, and employment was up at an estimated 5% in the second quarter of 2010. There are currently open reqs for new hires at my company, and we just can’t find enough qualified applicants for our specialized and well paid jobs.

According to a recent study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average salary for this year’s crop of computer science grads is over $60,000, and that doesn’t account for the fact that these jobs have excellent benefits.

Salaries in six figures are common among the best trained graduates after ten years on the job. Although it is too early to tell, this trend may lead to an influx of CS students who might otherwise have majored in finance. 

There is also a coolness factor among a generation of students who grew up with computers and are deeply engaged with technologies like cell phones, Facebook, and other social media, and the latest electronic devices from Apple and other hardware companies are generating a spike in interest. Eventually, people realize that the stereotype of computer geeks as a lonely career in which you sit in a cube and write code is not true.

In spite of the recent gains in CS graduates, it is still dwarfed by the demand and projected number of jobs. There will be a shortfall of skilled people, and corporations will continue to lobby the government for additional visas to import skills from India, China, and other countries.

Our colleges continue to lead the global economy in producing productive and well educated, well rounded students despite the budget cutbacks in higher education. My fear is that the pipeline: elementary, secondary, and high schools will not produce an adequate supply of prepared students to enter technical education with the requirements for basic mathematics and good communications skills. It is the public schools that are the pipeline to these colleges at risk. And, ironically, part of the risks come from a lack of technically trained public school teachers, many siphoned off to fill the jobs in industry. Are we “eating our seed corn”?

I personally tutor high school students in simple topics like vector addition, and I am always glad to help, but the students must ask for the help. They need to spend more time on algebra and geometry, and less time on Facebook, Rock Star, and conquering hostile planets. They need to read more books and spend less time in front of the TV. They need to develop critical thinking skills and be less influenced by advertisements. Finally, we need to fill a shortage of over 70,000 math and science teachers in the public schools. Again, I’m working on filling that gap having been involved in supporting public schools since I was assigned in 1982 to assist the teaching staff at a small minority school in Ft. Lupton, Colorado, but I’m only one person. Please volunteer at your local school, even if you aren’t an engineer you can help with reading and writing.

I’ve a life-long respect for education and how it creates well rounded and involved citizens, full time employment, and a strong economy. Times are rough right now, but my view is the glass is half full. We are losing those manufacturing jobs, and I don’t think that will change. But there is still a great need for what I call the “designing” jobs. We may make the widgets in China, but they are still designed in the U.S.A. (Sadly, that is changing too if our citizens don’t realize just where the opportunities are.)

So my advice for students: stay in school, study math and science, develop your reasoning skills, and plan for post secondary training, even if it is just a technical school. For those out of work and looking for a job: strengthen and expand your skill set, look to the Internet for tutorials and training, read about technology, learn about technology — the path the full employment.

And for those my age: just retire and get out of the way; these kids will know what to do; maybe you can spend more time helping the next generation, as well as a few re-trainees.

(Hint: job opening coming soon at InfoPrint Solutions. Salary: well, let’s just say you will be one of those rich people everyone wants to raise taxes on! But it isn’t just about the money, or the benefits, or the security — it is a job you will love and it has a future!!)

Originally written on November 20, 2010.

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