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Is it true that no one will hire older engineers?

  1. Feb 5, 2013 #1
    I've recently returned to school and am thinking about majoring in ChemE (heard it was very high-paying and the curriculum looks interesting) but, after surfing the web some, I've come across some disturbing stuff. I've been reading that no one wants to hire older engineers. This is very concerning to me, as I'll be in my mid-fourties by the time I finish my degree.

    Is it a waste of time for older guys like me to to get an engineering degree? Should I consider something else?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 5, 2013 #2
    Age discrimination is a real thing. In the US, and probably other countries, it is also illegal. That being said, I think you should be able to find work if you do well in your program. There are of course no guarantees in the job market, but don't give up hope.
  4. Feb 5, 2013 #3
    I didn't notice age discrimination until I turned 50, then I discovered it was much harder to find a job. At the age of 57 I was laid off from a major electronics company in the U.S. Probably in order to comply with an earlier adverse ruling in a discrimination case, the company sent me a list of all the employees they were laying off, including birth dates but not names. About 98% of them were over 40.

    Employees over 40 have higher salaries, have more healthcare expenses and have accumulated more vacation than younger employees.
  5. Feb 5, 2013 #4


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    The best part about being a professor/scientist is that there's no such thing.
  6. Feb 5, 2013 #5


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    There are a couple of factors at play here that deserve attention.

    First, in the original poster's position, he will be a recently trained engineer who happens to be older than other recently trained engineers. This is different from an older engineer who has not had recent training.

    Stagnation of skills correlates with age. And so any data that might suggest age discrimination needs to account for this effect. Most employers are looking for someone with an up to date skill set. What this means is that if you've had recent training, or can otherwise demonstrate competance - particularly in the more technical areas of the field, you're likely to be as competative as anyone younger.

    The second issue is that of higher expectation, which also correlate with age. But this is often because of the experience factor. Having 20 years of experience in a field can be a major asset and therefore allow you to demand more when negotiating a salary. But if you don't have that experience you should be aiming at an entry level position and your age shouldn't really factor into it.

    All of this said, the original poster is also at risk of falling victim to an "all or none" type fallacy (which oddly enough seems to be the kind of thinking prevelant among young people these days). Let's say for example that there is a true and measureable age discrimination factor that remains, even with the above factors accounted for. Jumping to the conclusion that "no one" hires older engineers is a mistake. Sure they may not be hired at the same frequency as their younger counterparts, but they may still get hired, they may still get good engineering jobs and they may still enjoy a lifestyle significantly better than their "general population" counterparts.

    A minor disadvantage does not mean that one shouldn't enter the field.
  7. Feb 5, 2013 #6
    What about health care costs? I've heard one of the main reasons old engineers are discriminated against is that.
    I didn't literally mean "no one," I meant few employers. Using the term "no one" when one actually means "very few" is a common usage.

    I think basically what you're saying is that I shouldn't have much trouble finding a job, but I may be paid somewhat less. Is this correct?
  8. Feb 5, 2013 #7
    I'm sad that I don't have more talent for physics. will employers just hire younger applicants with Ivy league degrees? I know some theoretical physicists and I've heard the career is extremely difficult.

    I taught at 3 universities in another field (I have a master's) and was a 4.0 student up to an introductory modern physics and multivaric calculus course (taught myself calc from Stewart), but I don't feel like I have great physics intuition and the abstract math isn't effortless- I could always do physics problems with time but I had to work at it and it 'seems' I'm not great at math proofs. I was #1 in HW problems in a very large university ranked in the 30s in modern physics, intro Schroedinger eqs. I'm in my 30s now so it seems like I should go into healthcare. it just seems like some people have this rare talent for pure abstract thinking and I always had to write steps and was sometimes lost in class.

    Do I have any chance of a career in engineering or finance?
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2013
  9. Feb 5, 2013 #8


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    It's difficult for me to comment on this one. I'm Canadian and assuming you're American we have quite different systems from what I understand. In my experience health care insurance premiums are often passed on to the employee though either as automatic deductions from your paycheque or as I understand is more common in the US, simply by not providing employer health insurance.

    But I'm not disagreeing with you that age discrimination exists. I'm sure there are all sorts of reasons for it - some logical, some not so much.

    I understand, but this doesn't really make much of a difference. The language implies (at least to me) that decisions should be made based on the highering rate being sufficiently low that it can be assumed negligible. I wanted to point out that a relative disadvantage does not imply that the overall situation is bad. Whether you drive to New Orleans in a Ferrari or a Cadillac doesn't make much of a difference if your goal is to get to New Orleans.

    I don't think being in your forties with a fresh engineering degree would put you at a significant disadvantage, and being fresh out of school, you'll likely be competing for entry-level jobs.

    Also, the relevant comparison is really yourself with an engineering degree at 40ish or yourself without an engineering degree at 40ish. In both situations you're still 40ish.
  10. Feb 5, 2013 #9
    Choppy makes good points, as always. The relevant question is whether you will be paid within the normal range for your education and experience. I can't speak for the policies of places I haven't worked, but you normally would get an offer based on those things and nothing else. To do otherwise frequently is to invite lawsuit.

    mathnerd, don't be too hard on yourself. Part of the reason I drifted into engineering was that I perceived that was a little less quick than my classmates. This disturbed me at first, but this isn't really something to get upset about. You may have a chance at engineering or finance, but in the business world success comes to those who develop the appropriate skills. In retrospect, I can see that my success as an engineer came from my smarts, but also from a willingness to learn the rules of a different world and play by them. You have plenty of smarts, but are you willing to embrace a non-academic profession? The world of business is different from academia. Not bad, just different, and different skills and behaviors are required. There are many, many resources available just in this forum that can help you get started to learn these things.
  11. Feb 5, 2013 #10
    yeah you know I sacrificed my life to colleges, going into terrible debt in youthful idealism for classical music and my health was ruined from faculty teaching. I feel it was probably a waste of my life and money- I used to pull all nighters 3 nights a week. I probably don't have the pure mathematical talent that competition winners and great physicists have

    you know somehow I beat all the other students in modern physics, but it would be difficult to sustain that longterm into a Phd/career. I'd love handing in my physics exam and being finished- in music you are always worried that your technique is going to degrade and play a single wrong note and you have to practice

    there seem to be careers for actuaries, quants, accountants, but I heard the job security is quite bad?
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2013
  12. Feb 5, 2013 #11
    At least until 2014 (and still likely thereafter), the majority of employers in the US offer health insurance coverage for their employees. Both the employer and employee portion of the cost is a tax exclusion, offering significant tax benefits (an exclusion is a greater tax benefit than a deduction).

    While there is a distinction between "employee" and "employer" portions of health insurance contributions, this is largely symbolic in the US, and the employer pays the premium. Ultimately the entirety of the bill is a cost to the employer that is associated with that employee. My understanding is that this is different than in Canada, where at least in flex plans the employer paid portion and the employer contribution to the employee are taxed differently.
  13. Feb 5, 2013 #12
    I have to say that faculty teaching in music is really overrated and political and hazardous to health from my experience. You do get benefits, but I just felt I was being used even though my knowledge and research talent was higher than most of my colleagues
    that's a great modal name...
  14. Feb 5, 2013 #13
    The job security for accountants and actuaries is very good. I know less about the quant realm, but I feel confident saying the job security is less there. The pay for quants is, in general, better. See two-fish's old posts on the subject.

    As a side note, the vast majority of accounting uses absolutely no math or statistics. It is largely unrelated to the other two careers you list.
  15. Feb 5, 2013 #14
    I heard that beginning financial analysts/quants have terrible job security and have to work 120/hrs week. Physicists should have the highest paying jobs, they have the skills and knowledge which very few people can master, but it seems that real world academia and the job market doesn't recognize this- one of my experimental physics professors I heard was making over 100k a year, but he was the only one at that salary level
  16. Feb 5, 2013 #15
    Thats what they like to tell themselves... :wink:
  17. Feb 5, 2013 #16
    The quants who have posted here, along with information I've gotten at other forums, suggests your 120 hrs/week is incorrect in general. I made the same mistake, too, at one time. Much of the confusion comes from mixing up back-office and front-office jobs; the area of work also matters (M&A having more hours, for instance).

    What ModusPwned said. . .
  18. Feb 6, 2013 #17
    People aren't paid for skills and knowledge though. They are paid to increase profit. (Skills and knowledge can help this, of course, but keep your eye on the ball here. :smile:)
  19. Mar 9, 2013 #18
    isn't it true employers will look at you if you are 39 say, he only has a bachelor's (or master's) in engineering) we should hire another engineer from a better college who is younger and can work more years for our company and is more energetic?
  20. Mar 9, 2013 #19


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    I depends. Comparing a degree from 15 years ago with a current one, you may have to make allowance for grade inflation. And if somebody has 15 years solid work experience in the right application area, that could be much more useful than a wet-behind-the-ears kid straight out of college with a GPA of 4.0.
  21. Mar 9, 2013 #20
    well I don't have 15 years of engineering experience-
    they have a program at my school where you can get a double bachelor's in engineering and physics from an Ivy school but could I take some courses/GRE and apply for master's programs?
    some companies like Intel I heard will only promote engineers to upper management
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2013
  22. Mar 21, 2013 #21


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    There is "agism" in the business world, but it can be overcome (somewhat, in some cases) by keeping one's skills up to date, having actually done some projects in the recent past using up-to-date technology, and having a good network.

    In this tough job market, practically every job I've ever had (after the first one when I was "recruited" from college) was possible because of my personal network, which helped me find out about the opening, and also because I had skills which matched the job. But getting the interview at all came through knowing someone willing to speak up for me.
  23. Mar 21, 2013 #22
    Considering virtually all job posting require previous experience, I dont think so.
  24. Mar 29, 2013 #23
    so do you mean that I wouldn't be hired if I am an old engineer with a bachelor's/master's degree and no engineering work experience in any engineering field like electrical, aerospace, chemical? thanks very much
  25. Mar 29, 2013 #24
    The subject is difficult, but I think random or uncertain are better descriptions of theoretical physics as a career. The number of full-time research positions is much smaller than the number of skilled physicists. Many of us worry that the relative scarcity of positions makes an academic career dangerously close to a lottery or an exclusive social club. I know many excellent researchers who are working in low-paid positions with poor job security. Even if you write an original and important thesis, there's a serious chance you'll be ignored by academia like Hugh Everett III was.

    I don't mean to imply that all academics are charlatans, nor that my colleagues and I are all Hugh Everett. I only mean that recent physics PhDs face a high risk of financial ruin even if their research is outstanding.

    Several of my strongest subjects are things I got my worst grades in, and I had to work hard just to teach myself the basics. But once I did, I progressed very rapidly because I understood the fundamentals very well. Many of my colleagues have similar stories: they were awful at E&M or complex numbers, decided to learn it anyway, and are now very capable at it.

    Apologies if I just dragged this thread too far off topic.
  26. Apr 12, 2013 #25
    thanks for your kind post Negativedept. I actually never had problems in EM and had perfect 4.0 grades through introductory QM but there are always people with greater talent and technique and more years of experience. but like some of the others say there just isn't enough funding or jobs for theoretical physicists and you may end up in financial ruin and faculty teaching can be stressful and the pay is low with a master's degree
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