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By Jack Ganssle

Reverse-Shoring Jobs

Published 9/05/2006

It must be survey season; so many have come across my desk, all yielding lots of fascinating data.

Despite all of the fear of offshoring, according to an EE Times survey (http://www.eet.com/soe/showArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=DKR4H4F3WTT1MQSNDLPCKH0CJUNN2JVN?articleID=192201842) 64% of US engineers with 15 or more years experience are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 11% in India. Twice as many Indian engineers want to change jobs as do their American counterparts.

Yet in the US engineers seem to be doing less well. Home ownership is down 4% in just a single year (http://i.cmpnet.com/eet/salarysurvey/SOE_US_2006.pdf) and we own fewer cars. That probably confirms that engineers just love the work and monetary reward is never the most important reason for choosing this career.

50% of US respondents claimed that their company has sent work offshore in the last year; 17% of that was high-end software development. About an equal number reported sending low-level software overseas.

But in India there's a skill shortage. According to the August 28th EE Times (page 28; I can't find it on-line) Indian firms are actively recruiting engineers on US college campuses. No figures are given, but the implication is that India - and no doubt other countries - is competing world-wide for talent. In a sense this mirrors the US zeitgeist which has long welcomed H1-B employees and foreigners to our universities.

The same issue of the magazine projects Indian employment in "semiconductor and embedded design" to jump from about 75,000 last year to an astonishing 782,000 in 2015. That ten-fold leap far exceeds any assessment I've seen for the US or western European markets. Clearly, this demand will create enormous opportunities for locals. And equally clearly, such demand will outstrip the capacity of local schools to crank out engineers. Some of the supply will have to be imported from other countries.

Ironically, the demand for offshoring will create a sort of "reverse-shoring" component. And since American engineers profess better job satisfaction, I'd imagine Indian employers would be desperate for both their knowledge and their stability.

Surveys always raise more questions than answers. The EE Times piece claims India had 280 "hardware/board designs" starts last year, expected to accelerate to 2173 in a decade. But that works out to an average of over 300 engineers per design. Either the data is suspect or they are building hideously complex applications. If the latter is true, then that country will need world-class developers to actually get these products to market.

The implications have been clear for some time. Western engineers should improve their skill sets to remain competitive. And, especially for young developers who don't have the inertia of children, consider working in a developing country for a year or two. There's a demand for you today. You'll learn the culture, sample the language, and develop hopefully-durable relationships. Later your native country will find a demand for you, to exploit your experience working with overseas partners.