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EMC – July, 2010

Can a niche industry give me a look at hiring trends?  The show was local.  I decided to check it out.

A good friend of mine urged me to attend the International Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility. I like to say that, because it’s got a certain sound to it that suggests I might be incredibly intelligent.

The Symposium was being held by IEEE’s EMC Society, and as everybody knows, EMC stands for Electromagnetic Compatibility.

EMC, as my buddy explained, is a big deal for product that gets plugged in. When you microwave your lunch, you don’t want your TV going crazy. When you hit the brakes on your electric car, you don’t want it to accelerate. When you hold your iPhone, you don’t want to lose your connection.

You know, stuff like that.  

Now, since I don’t really know what a Symposium is, we’ll refer to this event as a show. And since I wasn’t invited to any of the meetings, we’ll understand that for me, the entire show was the exhibits.

My EMC pal thinks that this is one kickin’ industry, and he may be right. Nevertheless, it is also an industry that has left him visibly unemployed for the last year.

Considering the costs involved in getting to the show, he wasn’t prepared to make a thousand-something mile trip just yet.  And considering that the show was being held in Fort Lauderdale, where I live, embarrassing me into going seemed like just the right solution.

Trip Prep

I did plenty of preparation. I tried to learn how to spell EMC. I practiced getting the dates wrong, just in case I needed to miss the show. I opened the mail and saw a whole magazine full of post-it notes about the companies and who was who.

Alright. I went to the show.

Even with my generally poor attitude, I really did have a useful reason for going.

I needed to get the pulse of the job market.

Showing Up

Understand, this is a little, tiny show in a little, tiny industry. And, while we in the semi-tropics are always happy to have tourists stop by and leave their money; it’s something of a sign of the times that this show was held in Florida in July. That is not exactly our “in” season, being 95 degrees, and all. In fact, what it is, is Hurricane Season.

I guess convention planning is a bit awkward, coming out of the Great Recession, what with the president telling everybody they shouldn’t travel and they shouldn’t have a good time (unless, of course, they’re union leaders headed for Miami.)

So, all that aside, I looked outside and with no hurricanes in sight, I zipped on down to the Convention Center.

The last time I was there was to take a peek at the RV show. Those rigs were long gone, and so were the crowds.

This was a good time to concentrate on EMC.  It was nice and quiet.  Like a library.

Schmoozing

Everybody was extremely pleasant, which is nice. I mean, realistically, there weren’t all that many people at the show. You don’t want to annoy too many folks, or there won’t be anybody left to talk to.

According to industry insiders, the typical age of EMC people is over 40. Way over 40. Many were nearly as old as me.  I personally spoke to several PhDs who might well have been best friends with Marconi.

Company sizes were all over the place. Most common ranged from guys who sold gear on the side, all the way up to guys who had a great idea and decided to go for it.

The problem those fellows have: They’re Americans here in the U.S. The market for everything is booming in Asia and India. They can’t get to those markets.

The big, big companies were also represented. Those companies can get to Asia and India very easily. They’re already there. The guy from India told me sales are fantastic. And like so many others, he said sales in the U.S. are “on track.” Nobody ever explained where the U.S. tracks are headed, but apparently U.S. sales are on them.

In between the really big companies and the little micro companies, we had a selection of mid-sized outfits with mixed results. It was confusing for awhile. Many mid-sized companies had their names up on the exhibit, but often a rep from some other company was on duty. I think, basically, these were companies that were willing to write a check for the booth space, but they didn’t see much point in showing up. Instead, they had one of their rep firms handle the chores, seemingly saving gobs of money.

Looking For Jobs

Moving from exhibit to exhibit, I was generally drawing a blank. Most often, the companies I visited were way too small to add any employees. The big guys aren’t hiring, and the mid-sized guys, like I said, weren’t truly there.

The biggest thrill was the NASA exhibit. That was because they were running some kind of outreach program to attract kids into a program that our president has already canceled.

Here’s the short version of that one: The final NASA launches, which had been planned for September or October, are now postponed until after the November elections – isn’t that cute? At that point, NASA will dump some 4,000 highly trained scientists onto the market, and an estimated 40,000 supplier jobs will promptly evaporate.

I asked what will happen to 4,000 highly trained scientists. Does the U.S. government offer free job training, so they can become cable installation guys?

Mostly, it seems, these craniums full of interstellar intelligence might find employment where real progress is appreciated… Communist China.

Alright, then.

Automating Jobs

I was standing at an exhibit, comparing notes about the pretty complete absence of job opportunities, when a very helpful fellow explained the success his company is enjoying.

It seems his products sell for $50,000 to $90,000. Companies are buying a lot of them. The equipment is simple to operate and very effective. It will do two weeks’ worth of work in an afternoon. And it makes it possible for a lab to avoid hiring anybody. They can just get more results out of the same staff.

Let’s just quickly review, in case things aren’t so obvious later on. One reason that nobody wants to hire, is because there is no way in the world to know how much a new employee is going to cost.

Not only has our government gone from intrusive to disruptive to downright dangerous, but little issues like healthcare make the cost of an employee nearly impossible to estimate.

Far easier, safer, and more economic to dump the employees and hire machines.

As the man was saying, $50,000 to $90,000 is a bargain.

Finding Jobs

So, with all that insight firmly in place, I was winding up my visit and a sales guy totally messed up my summary.

“Hey,” he said. “They hired me three months ago. That’s somebody hiring.”

Hmmm.

Reporting Back

When I called my buddy to report on my trip, I gave him my wisdom, culled from my day at the EMC show.

“Clearly,” I said, “there is little to no hiring going on. The industry is full of old people getting ready to retire, and still, nobody is making a move to get replacements in the door. With the exception of one guy who was hired three months ago, I couldn’t find any company who wants to add staff. Trust me. I’m a professional.”

Realizing I might have been a touch heavy handed, I called him back the next day to soften up my report. I explained that these were just my early findings, and no doubt, over time, those with an EMC background would probably find some opportunities as the economy improved.

“That’s OK,” he said. “I got a call yesterday, after I talked to you. A Vice President apologized for not picking me up earlier. They’ll meet me anywhere, at any hour, to sign me up and get me hired.

I guess that makes two, huh?”

Posted in EMC, IEEE, Reviewed.


One Response

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  1. Dennis King says

    Wow Teddy, you really took some time with this comprehensive report, thanks for the analysis. And you are right, this is a tiny industry until you need to put your electronics product up for sale. Then Mr. Government ( for nearly every country where you will sell it) gets involved. They will tell you that you need the EMC industry and its solutions to whatever electronic noise your gadget produces or is susceptible to. You just can’t sell it unless you can assure “them” that it is not going to act like your own private radio station. EMC is like your utilities, when you need ’em, you really need ’em.
    Yeah, the show has gotten sleepier over the past decade. The solutions have become more elegant, and engineers are designing for EMC instead of reacting to it. There are some bits of gear which will tell you if you have a problem, what it is and how bad it is, and what government restrictions from what country you might be in danger of violating. But nothing replaces an alert expert who can walk into a design suite, take a long look at a circuit board and the application and tell you what the best fix might be. That’s the guy who becomes your ideal candidate. That’s the guy who, shown off properly, gets hired! What you do best is to work both sides of that equation – keep it up!



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