Apparently my recent rant (see below) about our country’s underutilization of our engineering Ph.D.s was not without merit, at least in terms of this country underutilizing our college-educated population. In the print edition of the Detroit Free Press on June 28, 2009 there was an article by Tony Pugh entitled “College Grads Getting Left With Low-Level Jobs”. In this article, Mr. Pugh stated that the percentage of graduates 25 years old and younger with a bachelor’s degree who are working in jobs that require a college degree fell to less than 50% in 2009. 49.9% to be exact, or close to 2 million people, the lowest percentage in 20 years. And, except for a slight uptick from 2006-2007, the percentage has been falling from a high of 57.9% in 2000. Now, some of this downturn in 2009 has to do with the recent economic problems, but not all. During the 2000s we did have some “boom” times and yet the percentage of college graduates working in jobs requiring a college degree trended downward.
According to the director for the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, Andrew Sum, “college grads who begin their careers in lower-paying jobs below their education level often take seven to nine years to catch the earnings of fellow grads who start out at jobs that require a college degree.” This is not just a problem for college graduates. Hiring college graduates for jobs that do not require a college degree creates higher unemployment for the low-skilled, non-college graduate and high school aged population.
I’m not advocating not hiring college graduates for these jobs. After all, I was a college-educated cashier at a local chain store pharmacy for a few years and also worked as a keyer in the membership department of the Detroit Zoological Society before I was hired in my current career position. That was the only way I could pay my bills and put food on the table. I believe that everyone that needs a job should have a job.
Truly I have no idea how to solve the problem of underutilizing the talent, education, knowledge, and expertise of the American workers. If I did, I’d probably win the Nobel Prize in economics. But I do feel that something must be done. And those who have the power to solve this problem should make this a priority.
Recently I was reading an editorial printed in The Detroit News on June 18, 2009. The article made reference to a statement that Andrew Liveris made at the National Summit on the economy in Detroit. The quote from the article:
“Dow Chemical Chairman and Chief Executive Andrew Liveris said the country has to produce more engineering Ph.D.s if it hopes to again be the place where things are made.”
I read this statement and had to laugh. Now, why you say? Seems logical enough. Maybe. In my life I’ve not known too many Ph.D.s, at least not of my generation, Generation X. But of the few that I have known none have been able to get a job worthy of having a Ph.D.
First, an aerospace engineering Ph.D. I knew a few years back. He endearingly called himself a “rocket scientist”. When I knew him, he was doing his post-Doc at the University of Michigan. As anyone knows, post-Docs do not last forever so he was feverishly looking for a job in his chosen field. Months went by. He applied to multiple places but nothing. He would’ve loved to stay in Michigan. He had a house here. He had a life here. Unfortunately, he had to sell his house in Michigan and move back to California. Move back to the house he grew up in, and was previously renting out, because he could not find a job in Michigan or elsewhere and his savings was running out. This was in 2002. I have since lost track of him so hopefully, he has gotten a job in his field. Something worthy of his education, knowledge and expertise.
Second, a material scientist I know. He got his Ph.D. from Michigan State University. He then did his post-Doc in Japan. He came back to Michigan in 2005 and was in search of a career job. Again, months went by with no offers of interview or employment. He took a job building a retaining wall. Physical labor is better than no labor. Not exactly the type of “material” work he thought of when he was studying for this material science degree. Eventually he moved to New Mexico and got a temporary job in a university down there. At least he was using his knowledge in material science. But, again, it was not a permanent career position. The job entails long hours, low pay, and, at least in the beginning, no benefits. Soon this job will be ending. And, so far, despite applying for multiple jobs in various states, only one HR director has bothered to call back for an interview, but no job offer.
Now, if there’s a shortage of engineering Ph.D.s in the United States wouldn’t it follow that all engineering Ph.D.s that wanted a job would have their pick of positions? If that’s the case, why then are there unemployed (or underemployed) engineering Ph.D.s?
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