Local U.S. Sections Help Members With Job Fairs, Career Resources

A dozen programs exist for unemployed U.S. members

4 February 2011

With U.S. unemployment at its highest level since 1983, what is an unemployed IEEE member (or someone just worried about his or her job prospects) to do? One of the first places to turn to is IEEE, which has nearly a dozen programs to help unemployed U.S. members and those at risk of losing their jobs. IEEE-USA’s resource guide provides links to IEEE job boards, information resources, and webinars, as well as contact information for IEEE-USA’s employment and career services coordinators in each of the six U.S. IEEE regions.

Those regional coordinators are an increasingly valuable resource for IEEE members. In fact, one of them helped kick-start a program to help not just members in his region but also those from around the country.

Ed Kirchner has been heavily involved in his section in Melbourne, Fla., for more than 10 years.

“About three years ago our section leadership decided that instead of just our usual meetings on technology-related topics, we should also organize career development activities,” Kirchner says. He soon found that attendance at career-oriented meetings, which focused on topics such as writing résumés and career development for recent graduates, was nearly double that of past section gatherings.

“I realized that these career events were just as important as our technical meetings, if not more so,” he says.

When Kirchner became the Region 3 career services coordinator last year, he found that IEEE already had a large repository of helpful materials and services, but most members were unaware of them. The resources include the IEEE Job Site, IEEE-USA’s career webinar series, and PowerPoint presentations on making career transitions, writing covers letters, and conducting successful interviews.

All that was needed, Kirchner decided, was a way to get the word out.

IEEE Senior Member Lee Stogner, director of Region 3, saw that Kirchner was getting the word out to his section about career resources and thought it would be good to share that information with a broader audience.

“First we began a communications process,” Stogner says. “We told every member in the Southeast what IEEE career-related resources existed.” And early last year, the region conducted a survey to learn what its members needed to assist them in their careers. The region’s officers were surprised by what they found.

“Out of 40 000 people, 14 percent were unemployed,” Stogner says, noting that the figure was well above the national average. And 24 percent of respondents said they felt they were at risk of losing their jobs in the next year.

To address that fear, the region’s leadership held a special session as part of the Region 3 Fall meeting in Atlanta. They asked attendees to serve as a kind of employee-assistance network that could alert IEEE members about career resources at the local level. About 100 volunteers signed up. They were educated about IEEE resources and trained to use them, Kirchner says.

“This enabled them to go back to their local sections and spread the word at regular section meetings and through their newsletters,” he says.

On 23 October, the IEEE Canaveral, Melbourne, and Orlando sections held a daylong workshop titled “Career Survival for Engineers and Scientists in the 21st Century.” The seminar was developed by the IEEE-USA Career and Workforce Policy Committee, which focuses on the health of the U.S. engineering workforce, in cooperation with the IEEE-USA Employment and Career Services Committee. The committee develops resources for IEEE members and holds sessions on how to market oneself, how to become an entrepreneur, and much more.

The seminar was open to anyone, not just to IEEE members, according to Kirchner, who says 52 people attended. “We had a pretty good cross section of members, nonmembers, and even non-EEs,” he says.

Far from just a local event, the seminar was broadcast live over the Internet to 12 sections throughout the region, bringing it to more than 200 people. Each site had a facilitator to answer attendees’ questions. The event was videotaped by IEEE-USA, which plans to make DVDs available soon, and it can be viewed online by anyone with an IEEE Web account.

That wasn’t the end of Region 3’s career-assistance work. “We’re staying in touch with attendees to make sure their questions are being answered and they have the support network they need from their fellow engineers,” Stogner says. “Employment assistance is an ongoing program that will reach every member in the region who needs help.”

He says he will be meeting with IEEE’s other region directors, teaching them what has been accomplished in his region. “We’re going to see if we can take this program across the world,” he says.

Meanwhile, other IEEE sections have been helping their unemployed members. The Orange County (California) Section organized its second annual job fair in November, held in conjunction with the International System-on-Chip Conference.

“We had over 500 job seekers visit the job fair,” says Farhad Mafie, chair of the section’s IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society. Eight employers paid $500 each for exhibit space at the job fair, with all proceeds supporting the section.

“I strongly believe that in these challenging times, one of the best things IEEE can do for its loyal membership, especially in the United States, is to create effective and useful networking opportunities between employers and job seekers,” Mafie says. “I feel it is our duty to help the engineering community with finding jobs, interviewing and résumé-writing skills, and more.

If you’re looking for a job, attending your local section meetings might be a good place to start.

“A lot of engineers don’t network well,” Stogner says. “They think their immediate team at work is the only people they need to know.” But when entire divisions get laid off, your co-workers can all end up in the same boat as you.

“The IEEE is that constant thread through a 40-year career,” he continues. “You can depend on people in your team, down the street, or two states away. If one area is down, maybe another is up. Invest a few hours a month in your IEEE membership to build your network. Use the network and give back to it. Those people might be able to help you two to three years down the line.”

For more information on IEEE career resources, visit the IEEE-USA Career Navigator.

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