Lessons Learned Hiring New Engineers

Any broadcast engineering manager can tell you hiring competent help has become a challenge. I just went through a long period of interviews and failures to launch new employees for this reason or that. I know some other local managers have had trouble getting new engineers as well. Here are some of my observations:

It’s a tight job market in general

With the official unemployment rate at below 5% now, not that many experienced engineers are looking. On TVJobs.com, I never found more than 10 resumes with TV broadcast engineering experience at a time. Ads on SBE websites drew weak responses.

The broadcast industry undervalues the added skills of broadcast engineers

What your station budgets for engineers may no longer meet the market value of today’s broadcast engineers. Consider that you are typically hiring someone with not only IT desktop support skills, but also advanced networking, audio-video installation, diagnostician, and perhaps even RF skills. Meanwhile, your budget may afford the person with intermediate networking skills, no extras. It’s becoming a problem. I remember Jack Williams of PR&E telling me that engineers will become the rock stars of the 21st century. He was right, but we still want to buy rock stars with the salary adequate for a part-time cover musician. The experienced guys are leaving for jobs with broadcast vendors or IT service, which is too bad. Forget hiring a BSEE–they’re usually in high tech and making serious coin.

There are very few broadcast engineering preparatory schools

The glut of electronics technicians from World War II gave way to the FCC First Class Radiotelephone License mills and college courses of the 1960s and 70s, so there were plenty of technicians to read schematics and service circuits to component level. The landscape is completely different now. You can still do self-study with Cleveland Institute of Electronics, though surprisingly they don’t seem to do placement services for their graduates. In California alone, Palomar College, Pasadena City College, and Napa College all used to offer Broadcast Engineering majors, but no longer do. Bates Technical College in Seattle still offers good broadcasting courses, but you’ll have to attract them to San Diego. SBE.ORG has a list of schools that offer SBE certification at the back end, but not all have real broadcast engineering prep. We’re pretty much on-the-job training now, and that’s too bad.

Millenials sometimes have an unrealistic view of their blooming career

Each generation has had its stereotypical work ethic. I heard horror stories of alcohol and tobacco abuse in the 1950s. It’s no secret that employers consider the emerging generation to have a troublesome attitude of entitlement. On the other hand, they have a healthier work/life balance than baby boomers. I was shocked by the attitude of some applicants with only modest experience turning down a job because they would be asked to work evenings. At the same meeting, they would ask about speedy career advancement opportunities. “Paying dues” seems to be a dying concept, but not universally so.

San Diego’s housing costs create a significant drag on recruitment from other markets

You would think those in Milwaukee or Cleveland would jump at the chance to live in an idyllic weather climate like San Diego affords. Someone with a perfect amount of experience from Denver or St. Louis would inquire, and when they learned that the pay was about the same with housing costs 50 – 100% higher, they would say essentially, “thanks but no thanks.”

Take a second look at the resumes for senior engineers

If someone has a résumé with frequent job changes, ask for their narrative and talk to their references. You may find someone who, through no fault of his own, may have been caught up in corporate consolidation, politics, or a temporary health issue.

Check those references

Ever since KFMB hired a broadcast engineer 18 years ago who turned out to be a professional imposter and romance fraudster, I’ve been vigilant about checking references. I may have come across another faker this summer. His A/V experience was promising. A LinkedIn.com post with his name had some earlier experience in common, but was from a much older person with a totally different career path. When I called his references, they were “biking buddies.” When I asked for better references, he vanished off the face of the earth.

Veterans may or may not be prepared

I really want to help the veteran who may have come from a disadvantaged background and learned technical job skills and discipline at the same time. But in careful interviews with a couple of applicants, I learned their idea of electronics tech work was to put a circuit board in a tester and send the ones that failed back to a contractor–no demonstrable electronics training at all. I did interview one ex-soldier just so that I could sit him down and go over his resume to correct his spelling and style errors and his propensity to blurt military alphabet soup that had no meaning to a prospective civilian employer. If there was placement training available, he hadn’t taken any. That said, I won’t give up on this segment, and I know local veterans who have made successful transitions to broadcast engineering.

There are plenty of IT people out there if you’re willing to cross-train them

Running an experimental ad in Craigslist, we were deluged with responses that demonstrated an impressive number of IT networking and programming skills with zero broadcasting experience, or only grip or operations experience. I know personally that many of these workers can be converted into modern broadcast engineers with little extra training. After all, today’s broadcast engineer is, in fact, 80% or more IT engineer. You have to be careful in hiring this person to determine if they have an excellent customer service attitude and diagnostic aptitude, and that they don’t mind working the fringe shifts as needed.

In the end, I hired two engineers: a junior engineer with light broadcast experience and razor-sharp customer service, IT support, and diagnostic skills. Also, a senior broadcast engineer who has done and seen it all. He’s friendly and a skilled teacher as well.

I think we’re going to have a great 2017!