What is expected
For an engineer, job shopping can be a daunting task, but at the same time quite rewarding. It is ill advised for an engineer, regardless of the discipline, to start taking on temporary work when fresh out of college. The task of an engineer, when selected by a company, is to hit the ground running, and years of experience can only give one the ability to undertake any given task to complete within the scope of the work requirements. Time is money. In today’s market, company’s need engineers who can complete their requirement on a timely basis.
Job shopping is not for all engineers
Life of a job shopper, by all accounts, is not for those who wish to settle down and have a family, or one who enjoys the comfort of home. Living out of suitcase is something a temporary worker has to get used to due to short-term assignment (six-months, or less) or even long-term assignment (six months to two years). When job shopping, sometimes, an engineer can land an assignment that can last for years, or more, but that possibility is rare. If the engineer likes to travel, then this is the way to go.
If flying to the work destination, the engineer is limited as to what he or she can take with them, and renting a vehicle could be costly. If driving, take what is necessary because an engineer accumulate things when working in a different place.
Finding engineering work
Presently, economic times are difficult and fewer jobs are available. In spite of this, there are companies in need of a design engineers, be it mechanical or electrical. A job shop engineer usually post their resume with a nationally known company that specializes in job openings for contractors and consultants in technical disciplines. For a modest subscription fee, there are companies on the internet that provide a service by listing recruiting companies (job-shops) that are looking for specialized engineers. It is a worthwhile investment because this is the only way a job shop engineer can find work.
Usually, an hourly rate is how one is paid. There are companies that offer overtime pay; some, however, do not.
Needless to write, when taking on a new assignment, a job-shopping engineer sometimes never knows who he or she is going to be working with until introduced to the lead engineer, or supervisor in-charge, principal or the chief engineer. More often than not, sometimes personality differences become a problem when working for direct personnel. It may not be as comfortable as one expects. One of the main reasons for personality differences is largely resentment. Temporary engineers often make more than engineers that work directly for a company, and, this does not sit well with most engineers. To be sure, a job shopper has to develop a thick skin to withstand the initial thoughts and criticism from fellow engineers.
What most direct engineers do not understand is that a temporary engineer does not receive any benefits, such as health, vacation pay, sick pay, or any other benefits. Wisdom dictates that the astute job-shopper invests his income to offset the costs of health insurance, vacation, and any other expenses.
Working with specialized software
As a mechanical engineer, for example, in all probability, working with computers is almost a given. The functionality of a computer (PC, UNIX, etc) varies with each company. Knowing how to work with state-of-the-art software that some of the larger companies uses is important. Companies such as Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, et al, use different 3-D designing software, i.e., CATIA, Pro Engineer, CADAM, Solid Works, etc. Each designing software programs, such as Pro Engineer (Pro-E) and CATIA has unique designing capabilities. For example, PRO-E has solids, wireframe, cabling, piping, interfacing, assembly, etc, that can design a complete NASCAR, ready for machining, CNC milling, production setup, etc.
To give an idea, Boeing’s 777 was the first aircraft entirely designed using the computer’s software, CATIA.
If an engineer has not received design software training when in college, most companies will train. Take advantage of the free training because the costs of taking courses privately are pricey if the engineer chooses to pay out-of-pocket.
When job shopping, an engineer is sometimes required to possess a government issued secret clearance (usually by DOD). If once granted a secret clearance, the engineer must try to maintain this clearance and not let it lapse or otherwise the engineer have to start again with an application, interviewing, and the investigation process, etc.
Finite element analysis
Usually, most of the larger companies, the ones that pay the most requires that discipline engineers have years of practical experience. If graduates of today have not learned, for example, finite element analysis (FEA) thorough the use of software’s such as MSC or FEMAP NASTRAN, ABAQUS, Pro/Mechanica, Hypermesh, then they will have to rely on the company they first work for to put them through a special class instructions. Otherwise, having to pay out-of-pocket to take these courses is costly.
Example of job requirement
The following is an example of applying for a stress engineer’s position. Most companies require that the engineers have five to seven years or more product design engineering experience. Additionally, have a strong system performance analysis skills using Matlab analysis tool and have Hands-on domain expertise in several of the following areas:
1. Developing and verifying system requirements,
2. Architecting electromechanical actuation, processor based systems,
3. Controls engineering, system modeling and analysis,
4. Power electronics design (high voltage, high current),
5. Motor control algorithm development
Of course, there are other requirements associated with this position. Years of experience in using certain FEA software, PCs using Excel, Word, etc.
There may be travel required in accepting this position.
Today’s engineering market vastly differs from yesterday’s market. An engineer could land a temporary job and work locally for years. Today, travel is required if engineers want to remain employed. Occasionally, an engineer can land a lucrative position working overseas, but working overseas has consequences. The world’s job market is in need of specialized engineers, but the personal safety and protection is not there to warrant the pay.
Most of the mechanical engineering firms ask that the engineer be strong in static strength analytical skills. This could range from metallic through composite structures using classical and finite methods. Some companies will ask that the engineer be proficient in the use of linear finite element code.
Among other requirements, for mechanical engineers, is that they be proficient in the use and understanding of AS9100 that includes Mil STD, SAE ARP, and ISO. The companies also require complete understanding of geometric, dimensioning, and tolerance (GD&T). When assembly is concern, knowing how to compute stack-up tolerances is everything. Possessing a good understanding of how MS Office, including Excel, MS Project, Power Point, Word, Access, works is an advantage.
As far as formal education goes, any engineering degree needs to be from an accredited university. Some companies will accept a job shop trainee that hold a BSME, BSEE, etc. Having a master’s degree is even better for the degree will assure an interview.
If the engineer has the experience and is ready to job shop, the engineer must know what it requires to travel short and long distances. While the pay is better than working directly for a company, there are tradeoffs. The following is some examples.
1. For short term, there is hotel, motel expenses.
2. For long term, renting an apartment might be a better solution.
3. To drive in extreme hot and cold weather the automobile has to be in good working order. Consider the wear and tear on the automobile.
4. If a home is base, consider storage or have a caretaker.
5. If the engineer home base or an apartment is in a different city, consider the costs of paying for two places.
6. Depending on what city be prepared for the area’s weather.
7. There are items such as laundry, dining, and other expenses are not normally incurred when living at home base.
The following is usually how an engineering recruiting company conducts business when dealing with prospective engineers.
1. The interested recruiter contacts the engineer and gives particulars about the assignment.
2. The engineer will ask if there is a per diem split, and if there are any additional benefits that the recruiting firm is offering.
a. A per diem split refers to a split of the hourly rate quoted. Depending on the state the engineer works in, determines how much of a split is legal for purposes of income tax reporting. For example, the engineer accepts an offer of $85.00 per hour, and he works in a state that allows a 55-45 split. This means the engineer pays taxes on 55% of the $85.00, and pays no taxes on the remaining 45%. However, by accepting a split, the engineer cannot deduct expenses incurred to and from his home base, whereas, if the engineer does not accept the split, he or she can deduct all business expenses associated with his job assignment in a different state. A word of caution. State and Federal tax laws are not static. It is the engineer’s best interest to consult with a tax accountant, one who is familiar with the job-shopping world, to see what items he or she can deduct.
b. Benefits are not usually available for short-term assignments. Some benefits are available for long-term assignments, such as vacation pay, health insurance.
3. The recruiter and the engineer make an agreement.
4. An interview is set-up, and eventually, the recruiter gets back to the engineer informing him or her whether or not they got the assignment. If the engineer lands the job, he or she gets the necessary information, i.e., dates, contact names, etc, needed to get to the location of the assignment.
5. Companies usually require that the engineer undergo drug testing, and this is primarily done at the engineer’s home base.