Role of immigrant engineers in the U.S. manufacturing industry

February 17, 2017 - 06:30am
Role of immigrant engineers in the U.S. manufacturing industry

In a Feb. 9 posting at, Bill Conerly of Conerly Consulting LLC, Oswego, Ore., discussed how U.S. manufacturers need engineers to thrive because engineers invent products and optimize production methods.

He noted engineering is mostly complementary to production and maintenance jobs, which account for the majority of factory employees. “But you would also count clerical jobs, people doing scheduling and that sort of thing,” Conerly told CTE. “It includes people who work in the manufacturing sector who maybe are not even in a factory like sales people. You don’t get engineers unless you have sales people; you don’t get sales people and maintenance people unless you have engineers.”

However, finding high-quality engineers can be difficult. According to Manpower’s annual list of the 10 hardest jobs to fill, engineers rank ninth and are rising in the rankings. Also, immigrants make up a significant portion of these engineers. In U.S. science and engineering fields, 27 percent of workers are foreign-born, according to a 2014 National Science Foundation report. That’s because, Conerly explained, people who earn college degrees in science and engineering look for the best job opportunities, and if they’re from a relatively poor country, the U.S. is high on the list of possible countries with the best opportunities.

Once manufacturers recruit and attract talented engineers, including foreign-born ones, retaining them is the first priority for a manufacturer, Conerly emphasized. But retaining them doesn’t necessarily require a high starting salary and frequent raises.

“In general, engineers don’t start looking for another job because of wages,” Conerly said. “They start looking for another job because their boss is a jerk. Then when they finally get fed up with the boss, they look around and half the time they find they can make more money.”

Therefore, manufacturers need effective first-line managers to retain employees. “Regardless of the job, the best advice I would give a company is make sure your advisers are giving frequent feedback,” Conerly said. “Whether it is negative or positive doesn’t make a lot of difference, but employees who get feedback about their performance are much more likely to stay.”



Alan holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Including his 20 years at CTE, Alan has more than 30 years of trade journalism experience.


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