July Editorial: Following up on “brain drain” in test engineering

In the April print issue of Evaluation Engineering, my editorial column focused on the topic of “brain drain” in electronic test engineering—as in, the challenge 1 54074vendors and institutions are facing to find quality test engineers in a time when many very experienced, baby-boomer aged engineers are retiring and taking an immense wealth of experience with them.

The more I see new test instruments launched, it’s very apparent that ease-of-use is one of the top factors that go into new instrumentation design. So many new test solutions offer large, touch-screen displays that make it easy for new test engineers to get up-to-speed quick, or allow design and/or software engineers to run testing without needing a testing background to begin with.

Such test equipment vendors may not be specifically catering to testing newcomers, but they’re certainly making their solutions friendly to them.

I ended that April column asking readers to send me their thoughts on this topic for a follow-up editorial, so that’s what I’ve done here. Below, find a handful of responses readers sent in.

Brian Nelson, North American sales manager at CheckSum: “We make ICT equipment and have a big challenge to find electrical engineers. The interesting part is not the lack of electrical engineer candidates, but more the quality gap. We have established close relationships with several local universities to directly recruit engineers. Although many graduate, the percentage that have enough talent to meet our criteria is a small percentage.

The gap is in the disconnect between real-world applications from book-learned concepts, particularly in understanding of analog circuitry and coding skills typically learned via object-oriented coding versus ground-up coding. Although our world is increasingly digital, the circuits that drive the digital still must work and that requires analog knowledge. Many of the universities seem bent on churning out coding engineers vs. electrical engineers.

We are looking for engineers with a passion. They are few and far between.”

Rebecca Bassett, product marketing manager, services and proficiency, at National Instruments: “I read your article and found it VERY interesting. As new engineers are flocking to software and design—I think we are at a unique advantage with software at the very core of our platform. It makes test and measurement a little more sexy, in my opinion. Also, it helps with the user-friendliness aspect. From a customer education view, we try to tackle the talent challenge in a few ways:

  1. We sell our products and training to university, to build up a pipeline of engineers who are knowledgeable about our products. This helps give students a taste of what to expect in industry.
  2. We sell and deliver training to grow the proficiency of our customers—in ways that are interactive and engaging.
  3. We invest in programs like badging and certification, where customers take assessments and earn a credential. It helps those that are motivated by mastery or competitiveness.
  4. Certification can also help T&M companies find engineers with the skill level they are looking for in our products.”

Craig Byrd, president of Automated Integrated Solutions: “I read your article with great interest. I have been working in the test engineering field for many decades now, from testing and characterization of semiconductors (memory), function board test, printer dye circuits/test beds, to telephonic GPS tracking systems, among others. I have never considered test engineering development "non-sexy." I have always considered the challenges of producing scalable production-worthy ATE with minimal test times, and characterization applications a great challenge.”

Mike Hockett, Evaluation Engineering Editor-in-ChiefMike Hockett, Evaluation Engineering Editor-in-ChiefDan Orlando, President of Solution Sources Programming: “This was a great article a friend sent to me, as he knows I’ve been preaching this for almost five years with very little interest. Now that it’s starting to show up in print, it might take hold.”

As always, send me any comments on this or any topic in electronic test & measurement at mhockett@evaluationengineering.com

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