Despite the painful recession, the job market for electrical and electronics engineers in Europe presents a decidedly mixed picture, as job losses are more than offset by the aging of the technical workforce and a shortage of qualified engineers. The result is a seller’s market for talented technical professionals across Europe, including those just graduating from universities. Unemployment across Europe is only about 3 percent for electrical and electronics engineers, contrasted with an overall rate of about 10 percent in most locales, rising to 20 percent in a few places, like Spain and Latvia.
The need for engineers is especially high in the United Kingdom. ”Just about every type of engineer with two years experience or more will find excellent opportunities,” according to Workgateways UK, a Web site for people from abroad seeking jobs in the UK. ”Within the Mechanical and Electrical engineering discipline, jobs for building services design engineers are in high demand; in particular for commercial, office and institutional (Health, Education) projects in the UK.”
The formation in early 2009 of Intel Labs Europe was a sign of both the strengths and weaknesses of the region’s high-tech job market. With about 900 researchers in more than 20 facilities in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK, as well as Eastern European locations, Intel is now believed to be the leading semiconductor research company in Europe.
Stephanie Lee, a sourcing specialist for European staffing with Intel, says that research and development head counts have grown slowly despite the recession, especially at Intel. She cautions, however, that this is an exception to what has been a gloomier market. ”In general, the short-term outlook for electronics engineering hiring is limited due to a slowdown in external demand, global economic factors, and lower attrition rates due to a much weakened external labor market,” she says. Lower attrition rates are particularly evident among engineers and other specialists with strong software skills. ”However,” she adds, ”situations vary by country and types of activity.”
But things are picking up. Intel plans to hire mainly graduates and interns, along with some experienced engineers to cover attrition, as well as for its growing R&D activities, and Lee says early business and hiring indicators for 2010 are generally positive in Europe. She says, however, that many of those hires will come from Asia. ”We tend not to hire from the U.S. into Europe as it is too expensive with relocation and related costs,” says Lee. ”Asia seems to be less expensive.”
”There has been a general bounce back in the industry,” says Bill Parsons, executive vice president and a member of the board at UK-based ARM Holdings, which owns the rights to most of the core chip designs used in the fast-growing smartphone and laptop market. ”We’re back in a growth mode.” ARM now has about 100 engineering vacancies, easily more than most high-tech designers and vendors across Europe. These jobs cover more than 15 facilities throughout Europe and include design and application engineers, embedded software engineers, and senior graphics hardware engineers.
ARM is especially eager to find top level engineers for its fast-expanding Sophia Antipolis facility in the south of France, which has become a strategic center for the development of new products. Sophia Antipolis is the company’s main source of global expertise in security and multiprocessing. ARM has been consolidating its work in France and is setting up a new development center dedicated to silicon-on-insulator technologies, in Grenoble, about 300 kilometers away, which combines the expertise of both the Grenoble and Sophia Antipolis teams.
Sophia Antipolis now has more than 40 engineering specialists, and ARM is actively looking to add about a dozen new professional tech specialists to its team in France this year. It expects to employ 100 people at Grenoble and Sophia Antipolis by the end of 2010. ”The wealth of highly skilled engineers attracted to the area, as well as such benefits as easy access to the Nice International Airport and the quality of life, have convinced our top management to invest in the Sophia Antipolis business,” says Pascal Peru, vice president of technology transfer, director general of ARM France, and head of the Sophia Design Center.
Several high-tech companies in Belgium, including Agfa-Gevaert Belgium, Alcatel-Lucent, Belgacom, Cisco Systems, and Nuance Communications International, have only a few engineering slots to fill and these tend to be for very specialized skills.
Smaller companies that are hiring (or thinking about it) are also reporting only a few new job openings, and these are usually for people with very specific skills. For example, BSC Filters, based in York, England, which designs and manufactures microwave filters, diplexers, and waveguide and coaxial passive components, is currently looking for one engineer. ”We operate in a very specialist field and as such look to recruit experienced operators who can hit the ground running,” says Paul Carter, sales and marketing director. ”We also operate a lean facility and recruit accordingly, an example of which is our need for an experienced filter design engineer to support our expanding design engineering team.”
Even at large companies, the opportunities can be smaller than they appear at first glance. Take Geneva-based STMicroelectronics, Europe’s largest chipmaker. The company lists 140 engineering job openings on its Web site. However, only 29 of these positions are in Europe, all of them in France, where it has a number of facilities. It has about 58 openings in India, 16 in Singapore, and a few more in China, Tunisia, and the United States and Canada.
The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, a Dutch defense contractor, has engineering openings in at least five countries—Finland, France, Germany, Spain, and the UK—but they’re generally niche positions, calling for very specific skills. Infineon Technologies is actively seeking only a few engineers for its home facilities in Munich and two test and product engineers in its facilities in Austria. Siemens, the German company that serves multiple markets and industries, currently lists no engineering jobs on its Web site for Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, or Spain, where it has several facilities, but it is looking for at least four product-design and digital-signal-processing consulting engineers in the UK.
In today’s mixed employment climate, the sun can shine even as the rain falls. Rohde & Schwarz, a leading supplier of test and measurement equipment, based in Munich, recently hired 70 young engineering graduates as trainees to do an apprenticeship in electronics. ”We want to give young people the opportunity to gain excellent qualifications,” says Hans Knapek, head of human resources. ”Currently, we are training even more people than we need because our trainees are very much in demand on the job market.” Knapek says the company’s objective is to position itself for the future. All the graduates will receive state-approved certification at the end of their apprenticeships.