Google+ Facebook Twitter Pin It Reddit

Out of Work and Not Sure Why

By Greg Harris

The journey of an engineer looking for a job.

Greg's Corner I recently exchanged a few emails with a Jameco customer from Redding, California and thought his was a story worth sharing. We know our customers have great technical capabilities, but when life throws curve balls, sometimes engineering skills are just not enough.

Bruce was clearly born into technology. He had been earning a living designing things since the age of 19, but forty years later he found himself unemployed and wondering if he was still employable. He faced a challenge that couldn't simply be fixed by plugging in a soldering iron.

Bruce's father was a scientist and he recalled fondly working in his dad's lab from the time he was 10. He began by cleaning glassware, soldering copper pipe and wiring control panels. Bruce got a jump on the rest of us and was actually designing and fabricating automation equipment by 19. Like a gifted athlete, Bruce put off college and followed his career passion. He did eventually get his degree, but didn't even start college until the age of 27.
Bruce's career was one success after another and he felt that he was "forced" to move up the corporate ladder to positions of increasing responsibility. As his responsibilities grew he did less and less with his hands and got further away from the technology but Bruce didn't complain. In 2008, and largely through Bruce's efforts, his company was sold. And while this represented a huge success for the owners of the company, it meant Bruce had successfully worked his way out of a job.

Like many people who've led successful careers there was little concern at first but as the months ticked by the challenge of finding an appropriate job grew. Bruce's career had grown away from the technology and more toward management. There were few management opportunities and he didn't have all technology skills of many his junior. Despite 40 years of professional success, Bruce found that his core skills were not perfectly suited for this new challenge of finding a new job.

Finding the right job, even during a strong economy, is difficult. Employers and job candidates alike spend just a few hours chatting, both on their best behavior, before deciding if they want to make a long-term commitment to each other. Imagine going on a few dates and having to decide if you should get married! Think about the challenge of attracting a member of the opposite sex in a crowded bar scene, and you'll understand the difficulty of finding a job.

In my own network of friends I've seen people evolve through a range of phases during a protracted job search.

Phase 1 = Confidence. Successful people know what value they can add and are confident that their skills will be instantly recognized. In this phase you hear things like, "I'm not going to even think about looking for a job for a few months." While the skills may be solid, finding the right match takes lots of looking and sadly many of my friends entered the next phase.

Phase 2 = Confusion. Most of us aren't on the job market too often and thus aren't very good at looking for a job. The skills associated with finding a job aren't typically aligned with what it takes to be a great engineer. Thus skilled people struggle to even get a call back leaving many dazed and confused.

Phase 3 = Desperation. Luckily many will never make it to this phase, but unfortunately it's increasingly common. This is when taking a part time job at Starbucks crosses some of our minds, and it's the point where many have lost all semblance of confidence. While the Confidence phase seems to ignore the scope of the challenge and the Confusion phase seems to lack effectiveness, the positive side of the Desperation phase is that the job candidate gets increasingly clear about what's critical and what's not in a next job. They have also started to master the tactics of finding a job, but they'll struggle to capture some of that Confidence necessary to land a job.

After 28 months, Bruce finally found a job as a Electronic Design Technician, making one-third of his former salary. What impressed me was that while he is salary poor, he is rich in enthusiasm. Bruce wrote, "I'm back in the technical soup. I'm relearning things I used to know, catching up on new technology that seems to have passed me by and have been studying hard in this new position." At the age of 59 this wasn't his plan for this part of his life and he acknowledges that he's working as hard as ever, but he's careful to note that he's having fun. Bruce tells me that it's the "fun" that Jameco puts into electronics which is why he wrote me in the first place. Bruce closes by saying, "I'm encouraged that this old dog is still viable and can learn new tricks." He sounds like that 10-year old in his father's lab.

I don't know Bruce well enough to know for sure, but I guess that life's new challenges will ultimately be more rewarding than if his career had gone along uninterrupted. I wish none of us had to worry about the salary, but it's clear that this renewal of spirit is reemerging as a part of what makes America great.