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Editorial - High Life: The Bill Comes Due
May 18, 1964 Electronics Magazine Article

May 18, 1964 Electronics

May 18, 1964 Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Electronics, published 1930 - 1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

According to Electronics magazine editor Lewis Young in mid-1964, the industry was entering into a slump in business opportunities. The boom times provided during the war years of WWII and Korea had resulted in, according to Mr. Young, a lax attitude toward operational strategy that led to wasteful spending and poor accountability for project results. It wasn't just the defense contractors' fault because government bureaucrats - from relatively low ranking military personnel to elected lawmakers - had (have) a habit of making sudden changes to contract requirements. Maintaining the resources needed to keep up with ever-evolving demands necessitated a lot of the excess. Fortunately, the military-industrial complex, as President Dwight D.Eisenhower dubbed it, was on the verge of being thrown another huge monetary bone - the Vietnam War. President Kennedy was already pumping lots of equipment and manpower into it, and LBJ would follow suit with vigor. The money pipeline was filling up quickly; the electronics industry was to be saved once again.

Editorial - High Life: The Bill Comes Due

Suddenly the electronics boom has ended for a lot of people. Companies are finding their sales and profits shrinking. And many engineers are finding themselves unemployed with only a two-week warning.

Some people are saying the electronics industry is sick. If it is truly sick, it can't complain that it caught a virus from somebody else. Electronics companies have lived high, wide and handsome during the past ten years and, like an undisciplined playboy, they have grown flabby and susceptible to infection. You can sum it up simply: Too much military activity has led to inefficient operation, complex and expensive engineering and stultified marketing.

The sharpest symptom of the illness is the worsening employment situation (p. 105). The market for electronics engineers has deteriorated sharply since the IEEE show in March, and those who have strayed from broad engineering into narrowly specialized fields or into contract administration find the going hardest.

You have to sympathize with the engineer who wants to work but can't find a job worthy of his education. But for 10 years electronics engineers, like many of their employers, have enjoyed a seller's market. Some jumped from job to job, reaching for higher salaries without any concern for building a future with a company or for acquiring well-rounded technical competence and experience. Many fooled themselves into believing they were executives because they shuffled reams of military-required red tape. Others contented themselves with very specialized technical work, pacified by the size of the paycheck. Now they are paying the piper.

You can build a convincing case for blaming military contractors for this professional idiocy. They nurtured the boom, wining and dining potential employees. Some companies set up what can only be described as production-line engineering departments, in which every engineer was slotted into a pigeonhole to do one specific task - such as acceleration testing of one kind of component. When the big project was phased out, the specialized engineers went out with it.

For many years there was always another project. Now there isn't, and the squeeze is on.

Still, every man charts his own destiny. What's happening today ought to be noted carefully by every engineer. It proves that sometimes the best-looking job is not always the best one in the long run.

For many engineers, the fatal mistake has already been made.

Our survey on (p. 105) shows it is particularly difficult for an engineer with 10 years' experience, accustomed to earning $12,000 to $15,000 a year, to relocate. For him the only answer is to beat the bushes and hope.

In the next issue we'll examine some steps we think the managements of electronics companies should take to improve the health of their companies and the opportunities of their employees.

 

 

Posted June 21, 2019

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