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In Search of Engineers

One technologist gives his tips for hiring a good staff

I chose the headline of this article because it is kind of like a movie title. I doubt there will ever be a movie with that name, but this is an ongoing story, one that hopefully has a happy ending.

I network with a lot of engineers across the country, and I keep hearing the same story: There just aren’t enough engineers out there for the job openings. When I first heard this about 15 years ago, I didn’t think much of it. I had a good job in management and engineering, and everything seemed fine from my office in the northeast. But I kept hearing that complaint, and seeing more and more ads advertising for broadcast radio engineers. I started to wonder why.

It seems to have all started with some decisions made by the FCC. Back in 1980, I took an exam for the First Class License and passed. About 10 years after getting my license, the commission decided they would no longer issue that license; you didn’t have to be licensed by them to call yourself an engineer. It would be the responsibility of your future employer to determine if you were competent. If you wanted something to show for your hard work, you could send in your “First Phone” and they would issue a General Radiotelephone Operators License that did not expire and wasn’t required to operate a commercial broadcast transmitter.

Then in 1996, the FCC decided it was all right for corporations to own multiple radio stations in a given market. This decision paved the way for consolidation, and stations decided they could run more stations with fewer people. Managers, program directors, announcers and engineers all started getting their pink slips, all in the name of profit. The romantic days of working in radio because it was fun were over.

Down the road from my office, a friend worked as a chief engineer for a small cluster of three commercial radio stations. We kept in touch now and then, and once in a while I’d call him to see how things were. On one of the websites, I read that he had moved on to a job in Boston, where he worked in IT. I reached out to him. He told me the pay was better, the hours were shorter and he only had to be on call one weekend a month. For him, the grass was greener on the IT side of engineering.

If you are a director of engineering, or a manager, you read the preceding paragraphs and thought: “Well, that’s nothing new. So where do I find my next engineer?” The answers are simple and involve only a little work, much like the steps you would take in finding your non-technical people.

I would start with the Society of Broadcast Engineers. Whether you are trying to find someone from around your area or would consider someone from across the country, this is a great first step. When you visit, you’ll find a listing of chapters from across America, maybe even one in, or near, your town. Just click on “Chapters” in the red bar near the top of the page. Once you have located a nearby chapter, you will see contact information. Call or send an email to the chapter representative and mention your need of an engineer. Some chapters will publish your opening in their newsletter, which is mailed to a list, or they may place the information on their website.

The SBE website also has a repository of resumes called the Résumé Bank. On this page you will find a listing of engineers who are searching for jobs in radio, TV or other sectors of engineering. When you find a listing that interests you, contact the SBE for more information on the prospect whose listing appears on that page.

In addition to contacting the local chapters or searching the bank, you can contact the SBE with information about your opening. Engineers often look on the SBE site for job listings and will contact you.

Another place you might not think to look for your next engineer is among the ranks of amateur radio operators.

A licensed Extra class operator has to study for and take a test for his or her license. These tests are technical in nature and require knowledge of transmitters and antennas. You can contact the Amateur Radio Relay League and ask them for contact information for clubs in your area. Then tell the local club you are looking for an extra class operator who may be interested in working as an engineer in radio. You would be surprised how knowledgeable some ham operators are.

Next, open your telephone directory or do an online search for vocational-technical schools. Contact your nearest technical schools that teach electronics and see if they have any outstanding students who would be interested in an engineering career with your company.

You can also place ads on the Internet for your opening. There are some places that accept ads at no charge. Ask some engineer friends and you’ll learn what sites are best to use. For a small fee, you can place ads on the Radio World website or in the print publication.

One thing to keep in mind when finding and hiring an engineer: Agreeing to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week should be worth infinitely more than what many of your staff make. When you take good care of your engineer, he or she will take good care of your station or cluster.

If hiring a full-time engineer is too much for your budget, there are contract engineers available in your market. Just realize that many of them are very busy and often don’t have the time for much more than emergencies, especially if they carry a long list of clients.

So now you have some thoughts and ideas on how to go about finding your next engineer. Be open to hiring older engineers who are at, or beyond, retirement age. Also be open to hiring young, inexperienced men and women who like technology.

Steve Tuzeneu, CBT, N1XXE, is a member of the SBE and a network staff engineer with The Bible Broadcasting Network in Charlotte, N.C.

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