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What’s the Engineering Skills Gap, and How Do I Take Advantage?

Engineer drafting on table with tools

You may have heard the phrase “Engineering Skills Gap” in the last few years. It refers to the difficulty employers are facing in their search for professionals with in-demand engineering skills.

If you have engineering skills and you’re looking to advance or establish your career, you may feel this gap has little to do with your actual employment situation.

You’re not wrong to feel this way.

According to a recent study by the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the effects of this skills gap can vary a lot by sector, skill and region. Some areas are over- supplied, some under-supplied and there’s not much data available on where and how these gaps can best be filled by skilled employees.

We talked to Aerotek recruiters to get their advice on how to use the skills gap to your career advantage.

Where is the skills gap?

By sector:

Both anecdotal and research data indicate an above-average engineering skills gap in private industries including:

  • Computer and Systems Engineering
  • Process and Mechanical Engineering
  • Radiofrequency/Microwave Engineering

There is also pent up demand in the manufacturing sector, for jobs including:

  • Machinists and Industrial Machine Maintenance Professionals
  • Operators
  • Distributors
  • Welders
  • Technicians

Government and defense contractors also have a significant need for electrical and systems engineers with advanced degrees and U.S. citizenship.

By region:

Certain areas of the country have a higher need than others for specific skills. Examples include petroleum engineers clustered in Texas and Oklahoma, where the oil is, or software developers and computer engineers in California, Washington state and New York, which high-tech companies call home.

Aerotek’s senior professional recruiters have insights into their specific regions. Matt Wiehe sees a need for flexible and well-rounded civil engineers in the Denver area. Jackie Ross, based out of Cleveland, says “This last year we have seen a huge increase in quality engineers/supplier quality engineers in Northeast Ohio. Demand has also been consistently high for electrical/controls engineers.”

How can you take advantage of the skills gap?

Have you considered relocating or working toward an advanced degree? It may seem cost prohibitive, but the benefits could far outweigh the inconvenience and extra effort. If your skills are in high enough demand in another region, employers also may be more flexible than you’d think about telecommuting opportunities.

Additionally, you may receive tuition buyback incentives to work toward an advanced degree if the skills gap is of significant concern to employers. Even without employer buyback programs, an advanced degree can offer a good return on investment, depending on the field of study.

Aerotek’s Wiehe notes that, “For anyone who has been laid-off or is between positions, Autodesk.com allows free 30 day downloads of software like AutoCAD or Revit so they can continue to keep their skills as sharp as possible.”

Ross adds, “I have seen a lot of interest in training around Six Sigma, drafting/design and electronics certifications. I have also seen more candidates asking about the PMP certification for project management.” Software skills, training and certifications are all great ways to build or maintain hard skills.

But don’t forget the soft skills. A report from the Association for Talent Development suggests that soft skills can be just as important as engineering skills in the general conversation about the skills gap. Employers surveyed indicated a need for skills like interpersonal/communications, managerial, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, process improvement and project management skills. These soft skills were highly valued, with 48-61 percent of respondents reporting need for soft skills, as opposed to 8 percent who declared a need for more technical skill. Highlighting soft skills like these could help to distinguish you from other candidates.

Find out more

Want to know more about how you can help to fill the engineering skills gap? Reach out. Plumb your professional network to look for mentors. Attend industry networking events. Or, contact an Aerotek recruiter in your area to learn from an expert about the demand for skills in your market.

What are your thoughts about or experience with the engineering skills gap? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, help to close that skills gap: visit our job board to find your next great opportunity.