R&D, security to lift EE jobs

By Scott Sargis
Published In Electronic Engineering Times
March 10, 2003

With government and corporate R&D spending expected to rise, there is hope for more EE jobs. President Bush’s proposed 7 percent increase in federal R&D spending in fiscal 2004 will raise the federal total to $122.7 billion, or the most ever spent by the government on R&D. Two areas stand to reap the lion’s share of the $7.7 billion jump: the Department of Defense, with 70 percent of the increase, or $5.3 billion, and Homeland Security, which will receive $1 billion.

Industry, which has traditionally made up 66 percent of R&D spending, will also be a source of new jobs. Though figures from the National Science Foundation (NSF) show that the rate of R&D growth has slowed from 5.8 percent in the late 1990s to 2.4 percent recently, total U.S. R&D spending (federal and corporate) should top $300 billion in 2003.

Improved diagnostic tools, smart bombs, environmental testing instruments, communications networks, scanning devices, sensors and a new family of mini unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are development areas that hunger for hardware, software and systems engineers.

For example, new families of bird-sized UAVs, such as the Sentry Owl and Dragon Eye, will require further miniaturization of sensor, surveillance and guidance technologies. One of the military’s goals is to build aircraft that can fit in a soldier’s backpack. Such devices could quickly and easily determine hidden enemies over the next hill.

Besides contacting NSF organizations, job seekers should research companies that will benefit most from the increased spending and new programs. For example, Lockheed Martin Corp.’s advanced technology unit in Palmdale, Calif., is working on an Air Force project to develop the Sentry Owl. Other companies-General Atomic Aeronautical Systems (Global Hawk UAV), Northrop Grumman (Predator UAV) and Boeing (unmanned combat air vehicle)-are all places to investigate.

You can also contact your local political representatives and enlist their help in supplying information on relevant NSF organizations and contacts.

Be aware that most NSF agencies will not directly hire you. But they can help determine prime contractors and contacts on projects.

If political or government routes fail or go against your nature, traditional research can yield beneficiaries of new or expanded programs. For example, your stockbroker can identify companies targeted for investment.

After pinpointing relevant companies, check their Web sites for upcoming job fairs. Also uncover local symposia that they will attend. Meet company representatives and develop a rapport. Jobs may not exist, but when they do, you will be well-positioned.

The increased spending on defense and homeland security eventually will translate to new jobs. The keys are to pinpoint the right organizations and to be on their radar when hiring begins.