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The War For Talent Continues For Engineers In Europe

A low graduation rate and aging workforce is causing a “severe” shortage of technical professionals

There’s still a strong demand in Europe for engineers, despite high unemployment in the overall workforce, and ongoing economic uncertainties globally.

And while there appears to be fewer job openings posted this year than in the past for American companies with facilities in Europe, human resource professionals of European-based companies complain that there’s not enough “talent” to go around.

If anything, the need for qualified engineers and computer professionals may never have been greater than it is now.

Europe isn’t alone. The Development Dimensions International (DDI)’s Global Selection Forecast 2012 reported that the competition for tech talent has increased steadily and rapidly over the past five years. The “war for talent,” as the report describes it, is coming at a critical time, when organizations are “relying more than ever on talent with special skills to differentiate themselves from their competitors.” But EURES, the European jobs and mobility portal set up for job seekers in the European Union (EU), which provides job vacancy information in 31 European countries (the EU’s 27 member states and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), reports that the list of new vacancies for “high-skilled” labor increased significantly in 2012 compared to the previous year, from 18.6 to 24.3 percent.

“There are shortages everywhere,” says Bill Parsons, executive vice president of human resources at chip designer and intellectual property vendor ARM Holdings in the U.K. “We’re seeing our numbers dropping now.”

“SEVERE” IN GERMANY

The shortage of electrical engineers (EEs) in Germany is “severe,” according to the Association of Germany Engineers (VDI). At last count in September 2012, there were 18 700 EE vacancies in Germany.

Part of the problem is time. On average, German companies need 114 days to fill positions for EEs. And more German engineers are retiring, or nearing retirement, than in any other EU member country. Schools aren’t keeping up with demand, in part because the dropout rate among EE students in Germany is 50 percent. There’s also a strong demand in Germany for academics in engineering and informatics.

A survey conducted by BITKOM (www.bitcom.de), the federal association for IT, telecommunications and new media, found that German companies can’t always find the people they need in Germany, resulting in an increase in job vacancies, not only for engineers, but also for IT specialists. This has been particularly difficult for Germany, which claims that its information technology and telecommunications (ITC) market is the world’s fourth largest.

Efforts to promote careers in engineering for German women also don’t seem to have been very successful. With around a million engineers across several disciplines, only about 13 percent of them are women—a small increase from 10 percent a decade ago. (Hoping to expand its recruiting opportunities, EADS, the European Aeronautics, Defense & Space group, has developed a special mentoring program for women, and hosted 250 women engineering students from Germany’s top universities—all members of Femtec, a German organization of women in engineering— at the ILA Air Show in Berlin in September 2012.)

Rainer Schmidt-Rudloff, a human relations executive with Munich-based Infineon Technologies AG who focuses on university relations, says Infineon is doing “selective hiring” in 2013, and has been successful in filling its open positions for technical personnel. “However, due to the still uncertain economic outlook, an exact forecast is difficult.”

Rohde & Schwarz, the German test and measurement company, is recruiting about 30 hardware and software development engineers for its home facility in Munich, and it’s looking for a systems engineer and system architect/software developer for the U.K.

PLENTY OF U.K. OPENINGS

The numbers are not quite as dramatic in the U.K., but one job site lists more than 1700 EE job openings.

“Tech professionals are far more concerned about the length of time a vacancy’s been advertised than the rest of the U.K. workforce,” says Mike Beresford, managing director of Randstad Technologies, an IT and technology recruiter. “Recruiting for a tech post is like trying to sell your house. Leave it on the market too long and, for whatever reason, people start to think there is something wrong with it. That leads to fewer applications.”

ARM’s Parsons identifies two critical issues in developing a growing corps of engineers in Europe: Fewer engineering graduates are coming out of European universities, with “about half” of those going directly into presumably better paying non-engineering jobs, mainly banking and management consulting. Of the just under 500 engineers ARM hired in 2012, only 130 were new graduates.

U.K. officials are also projecting a decline in the number of people studying computer science, a problem ARM’s Parsons says is partly the result of some universities keeping their software curriculum separate from their engineering programs.

Facebook opened its first engineering office outside the U.S. in London in 2012, focusing on mobile products, initially recruiting about 25 developers for the facility. In February, Facebook listed job openings in London on its website for a manager of software engineering, a product security engineer, and a security engineer/software tools.

Google says it hired “hundreds” of software engineers in 2012, but it hasn’t disclosed its plans for 2013. Google also seems to sharply define the work of its larger European offices. Engineers and other tech professionals in the Google office in Munich have spent much of their time working on Chrome, the V8 Java Script Engine, and Google Dashboard. In Zurich, the focus has been on Maps, Gmail, and YouTube.

In London, much of Google’s work has been on developing Google Maps and AdSense. But the company is building a new U.K. headquarters in central London. It’s not clear how many new hires might be involved, but the plan calls for a one million square foot office on a 2.4-acre plot in London’s King’s Cross Central development. Construction is scheduled to begin in late 2013, and Google expects to relocate its staff in the area to the new facility in 2016.

Ireland says it currently has 4500 openings for skilled technical professionals. Ireland also hopes to create 1300 new jobs over the next three years through Midas Ireland, an industry initiative aimed at promoting the country’s microelectronics industry. Hittite Microwave’s new International Operations Centre in Cork, Analog Devices, Microsemi, Xilinx, ZMDI, and M/A-COM Technology Solutions all have announced plans to increase hiring in 2013 in their facilities in Ireland. The Microelectronic Circuits Centre Ireland, working with 18 industry partners, has been recruiting researchers at all levels with experience in analog mixed-signal and RF integrated circuit research.

Denmark will be 14 000 engineers short of its requirements in 2020.

Huawei, the Chinese mobile communications company, plans to establish an R&D center in Helsinki, Finland that Kenneth Fredriksen, vice president of Huawei Central, Eastern and Nordic Europe, says will serve as one of the company’s core centers for device R&D. Initially, Huawei plans to recruit 30 employees for the Helsinki center, boosting that to more than 100 employees over five years. Initially, the Helsinki facility will focus on software development for smartphones, tablets, and other media-rich devices. In September 2012, Huawei announced a US $2 billion investment in R&D, local procurement and other initiatives in the U.K. Currently, Huawei employs more than 7000 people across Europe.

ARM is looking for more than 100 people in Europe, mostly for its Cambridge headquarters, but also in Norway, Sweden and France. The openings range from graduate software applications engineers, graphic hardware verification engineers, and principal design engineer/memory systems to at least two positions in the research department with “Internet of Things” in the job title.

Cisco is looking for at least 10 software engineers and seven IT specialists in the U.K., and a product marketing manager for software in Belgium.

Dell says it needs a storage solutions architect for a remote field satellite office in Denmark with advanced IT infrastructure architecture planning and design implementation skills and that can speak both Danish and English.

Angela Romei, the global employment public relations manager for Microsoft, says that while the company is hiring in all countries across Europe, there’s a specific focus on staffing up its development centers in Ireland, Norway, and Denmark.

Sweden reported 16 000 vacancies for computer professionals at the end of 2012.

While not facing the same numbers as other European countries, France also is having trouble replacing retiring engineers with equally skilled EEs.

The National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) in France says it is launching a round of competitions to recruit 20 young graduate scientists, with two each to be based at its Bordeaux, Grenoble, Rennes, and Saclay R&D centers, and three each at the Lille, Nancy, Sophia, and Rocquencourt centers. It’s also hiring nine senior researchers to be based throughout France. In addition, INRIA is offering several post-doctoral Fellow positions, each lasting 16 months, in a variety of very narrow computer science-related study areas.

“We will need talented and creative researchers,” says Michel Cosnard, chairman and CEO of INRIA, “particularly women, who are still under-represented in our disciplines.”

There’s also a strong demand for IT professionals, including IT freelancers, in Germany, France, and Switzerland. Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook, and Intel are recruiting IT specialists through a new initiative called MakeITin Ireland.

THE MIGRATION PATH

The VDI says the shortage of qualified people will require Germany to more aggressively recruit skilled workers from other countries to fill its skill gaps. But getting people to move from one country to another in Europe has always been a challenge for would-be employers.

New EU immigration rules may help fill many EU job vacancies. The VDI, together with FEANI, the European engineering organization, created the EU Blue Card to smooth the way for “highly educated” non-EU nationals to obtain work permits in EU countries, except the U.K., Denmark, and Ireland. (Information on how this works in Germany is available at www.make-it-in-germany.com.)

“It is vital for the German economy to allow for the migration of highly skilled workers,” says Ina Kayser, who manages labor market analysis and advises the VDI on engineering profession issues. “This applies today, but much more in the future as we face demographic changes [across Europe], which will affect Germany quite badly.”

To help ease the way for “foreign” engineers, some German companies are offering programs that include information on living in Germany, mentoring, and language classes. “Apart from methodological and specialist knowledge, soft skills and language skills are very important in Germany,” says Kayser.

INRIA has adopted policies to facilitate the integration and training of its mostly Ph.D.-level recruits, many of them from outside of France. “Mobility is essential in the dynamic and highly competitive world of computational science,” says Bruno Wierzbicki, the research institute’s director of human resources.

ARM has been working this issue for some time. Parsons says many nationalities are represented in its facilities in the U.K. and Norway, and among the 100 interns currently on its engineer staff.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP ANYONE?

Start-ups have always been a key driver of new job creation and there are success stories across Europe. (Skype and Angry Birds are two high profile examples.) The Shoreditch district in East London has gained a reputation as the place to be for new tech ventures, and several were launched in Ireland in 2012, many of them in the Dublin neighborhood now known as the Silicon Docks. Enterprise Ireland is a government-sponsored organization with the largest venture fund in Europe.

But by most standards, Europe doesn’t have a particularly strong record of success in entrepreneurship. European investors are more risk-averse than American venture capitalists. Only about a third of EU member states have rules dedicated to VC funding, with the rest relying on general rules or corporate laws. And, unlike the U.S., where many academics have become highly successful as entrepreneurs outside the classroom, university faculty members aren’t allowed to participate in commercial activities in some European countries.

The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, held in January, seems indicative of the problem. Of the more than 140 companies in a special TechZone exhibit space set aside for young start-up companies, the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the event, said it could identify only eight companies that are EU-based.

Several private concerns have been working to encourage European technical and business professionals to start their own businesses.

The European Association of Communications Agencies, a trade group, launched an advertising campaign in Brussels in 2012 aimed at encouraging young Europeans to start businesses. The campaign was scheduled to expand to Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, and the U.K. in March 2013.

Four European groups—Silicon Saxony in Germany, DSP Valley in Belgium, Minilogic in France, and Point One in The Netherlands—have formed a Silicon Europe alliance to promote investment in technology.

U.K.-based Cambridge Consultants, which mostly designs products for others, has published a free guide to help start-ups get their products successfully to market.

ABOUT THOSE LAYOFFS

Will layoffs in Europe announced by Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, Nokia Siemens, Philips Electronics, and others over the past several months help fill vacancies where there are shortages?

Maybe.

“Mechanical and electrical engineers are the most wanted disciplines here in Germany,” says the VDI’s Kayser. “Young graduates are often happy for opportunities involving living in a different country. But it depends on if the people are willing to relocate, willing to do a different job, willing to engage in further education that may be required for a certain position.”

Nokia, anticipating layoffs in the middle of 2012, boosted its stock-option program in an effort to retain key senior level employees.

Ericsson, after reporting in November 2012 that it planned a 9 percent cut of its Swedish staff, said in January that it intended to acquire Devoteam Telecom & Media operations in France—a deal that would add 400 skilled, France-based, IT professionals to theEricsson technical staff. The deal includes the acquisition of Devoteam’s TV SmartVision operations. In February, press reports indicated the French government and private equity funds had offered to buy about a quarter of Alcatel-Lucent’s 29 000 wireless patents to help boost the company’s revenue.

But the most overwhelming issue across Europe continues to be the shortage of engineers.

ARM is taking the long view. To help press its point about the need for more engineers and other technologists in the U.K., ARM in February committed to funding the establishment of up to 1000 after-school clubs, enabling more than 15 000 U.K. primary school children, aged 9-11, to learn the basics of writing computer programs. ARM’s commitment represents the first round of corporate funding of the Code Club, a volunteer group that runs the program. With ARM’s support, the Code Club can now double the number of after school clubs it supports to 1000. To date, the schools have been funded by awards and private donations.

About Ron Schneiderman:

Ron Schneiderman is a contributing editor for Electronic Design and It Is Innovation (i3), and a regular contributor to IEEE Signal Processing Magazine. He's the author of seven books, including "Technology Lost -- Hype and Reality in the Digital Age."

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