CAD Management in a Continuing Recession, Part 1

7 Jul, 2009 By: Robert Green

Learn how to protect your job in the current economic downturn.

I've been receiving a lot of e-mail from CAD managers about the poor economy, posing questions such as, "How bad is the recession?" and conveying more practical concerns such as, "What should I do to keep my job?" and "How can I find a job?"

In the next few installments of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I want to focus on these economic and career questions to provide some practical career advice. I'll be interviewing industry experts from around the globe so I can share a variety of opinions in addition to my own.

I'll kick off the conversation by presenting some survey and economic data to frame the discussion.

Survey Data
In my three-part, mid-year CAD Manager's Survey Update, I collected some data about the state of the economy and how it affects CAD managers. The data points to a market outlook that is gloomy indeed. Consider the following results:

  • 60% of CAD managers reported that their company has had layoffs in the last year
  • 21% of salaried and 33% of hourly CAD managers have had their pay rate cut in the last year
  • 21% of salaried and 28% of hourly CAD managers have had their pay rate frozen in the last year
  • 59% of CAD managers reported no new hardware being purchased in the last year
  • 57% of CAD managers reported no new software being purchased in the last year
  • 47% of CAD managers reported having training budgets cut in the last year
  • Survey Conclusions
    Business is really bad. So bad, in fact, chances are that one of every two people reading this newsletter has had his or her pay frozen or reduced. This business environment isn't the kind that leads to big raises.

    Costs are being cut via technology freezes. When companies that rely on CAD technology to make their engineers, architects, and designers productive stop updating their software and hardware, they are making a tough choice to forgo technical progress. This degree of cost cutting often is driven by the extreme need to preserve cash to keep the business going.

    Training cuts indicate stagnation. When companies stop enhancing productivity through training, it sends a strong signal that they are willing to ride out the recession without investing in staff.

    Software Companies in Trouble Too
    If the companies where you and I work are having a rough time, how are the software companies doing? In short, not well.

    If you want to gauge how CAD companies are doing, look at Autodesk's financials. Because it is the CAD market leader and a publicly held U.S. firm subject to Sarbanes-Oxley Act disclosure requirements, its financial records offer a glimpse into the state of software sales.

    In Autodesk's last round of analyst disclosures in May 2009, the company announced an overall 29% drop in revenue with only maintenance (subscription) sales showing any increase. New license sales dropped precipitously at 44%. There is no safe harbor; Sales in all geographic regions are down and even the ubiquitous AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT sales are down 40% globally.

    In 2009, Autodesk has had two major rounds of layoffs. The first, in January, eliminated 750 jobs (roughly 10% of workforce) and the second, in May, eliminated 430 or approximately 7% of headcount.

    This only makes sense. When companies in general are downsizing, they don't purchase new software. When enough companies don't purchase new software, companies such as Autodesk will suffer.

    Preserving Your Position
    So if things are that bad, it's time for CAD managers to protect their jobs as best they can. How might you secure and preserve your CAD manager position? How can you help your company better weather the tough times? Consider the following:

    Become production ready. Haven't done production work for a while? Get back into production shape. The ability to pitch in and get projects rolling by acting as a short-term production designer, drafter, or CAD technician could mean the difference between making a deadline or missing it. In this economy, it pays to be a pinch hitter.

    Be flexible and ready to switch gears. Understand that whenever a new project comes in that priorities may be changed. Rather than being upset about changes to schedules, just be happy that you have a job.

    Boost your IT knowledge. If you can assist in IT functions, you'll only be more versatile and valuable to your company. This strategy works very well in companies that hire outside IT specialists because your IT expertise will translate into savings.

    Innovate to save. See a better way to do things that'll save the company money? Speak up! As long as you can demonstrate savings and efficiency gains you should be taken very seriously.

    Learn. Do whatever you can to learn more about the software your company uses. You'll probably have to do this learning on your own time, but the more you know, the more employable you'll be.

    Summing Up
    I know this installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter hasn't been uplifting or encouraging, but the reality of the economy in which we operate isn't either. And because things don't seem to be getting any better in the near term, I believe it's time to settle in for a protracted period of belt tightening. CAD managers who understand this reality will be better suited to weather the storm.

    In the next installment, I'll share some of my industry interviews about the state of the CAD economy and draw market conclusions you may find helpful. Until next time.

    About the Author: Robert Green

    Robert Green

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