Survey: CAD Managers Reveal Effects of the Economy, Part 2

27 Oct, 2009 By: Robert Green

CAD managers around the globe report how their workloads, jobs, and department overheads have changed recently.

In the previous issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I began analyzing the results of my latest mini-survey, designed to gauge how the current economic downturn is affecting CAD managers. I know that many are tired of reading negative news about the economy, but I feel it is my duty to report the status of CAD managers whether the news is good or bad. (Believe me, I'd rather the news be good!)

In this issue, I'm going to wrap up my coverage of the survey with some additional results, as well as some recommendations for hanging onto your job and making the best of tough times. Here goes.

More Responses

To recap, the mini-survey comprised a brief list of economy-related questions, and was conducted during September 2009 via my web site, I received roughly 400 responses from the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, South Africa, and other countries. It seemed that CAD managers in every region are experiencing more layoffs, reductions in training and software budgets, and reduced CAD operator headcounts corresponding to generally reduced workloads.

The issues I'll focus on this time are:

  • Are you performing more or less CAD management than before?
  • Are you under increased pressure to be billable?
  • Have you been forced to cut overhead costs? 

CAD Management Duties

If companies are having a tough time, how is the workload of an average CAD manager changing as a result? I attempted to gauge the change by asking CAD managers whether they are performing more or less CAD management than in the past.

Let me draw a few conclusions and recommendations from these results, based on my personal experience speaking with CAD managers over the last year.

CAD managers are now more production-oriented. Since 43% of CAD managers report doing somewhat less to much less CAD management than before the downturn, they are spending more time working as architects, engineers, designers, and product designers. For these CAD managers, who are struggling to do what CAD management they can while juggling production pressures, life has become more hectic.

CAD managers are less in demand than we used to be. When only 20% of CAD managers are seeing growth in their CAD management duties, I assume that most senior managers see CAD management as less necessary than they used to. My personal experience has shown me that many companies that would like to expand CAD management have determined they simply can't afford to do so. I've also observed that getting a job as a CAD manager is very tough now, whereas in years past CAD managers could easily migrate to different firms when desired.

Stay put if things are going well. If you happen to be working for one of the 20% of companies where CAD management is being expanded, do everything you can to keep your job — the market elsewhere doesn't look too good.

Pressure to Be Billable

When I asked CAD managers whether they are being pushed to reduce the CAD management tasks they used to perform in favor of billable tasks like engineering, architecture, or design, I received the following results:

This data confirmed my suspicions. It is interesting to note how well these results dovetail with the amount of CAD managers who report having their CAD management duties reduced (43%).

So what conclusions and career pointers can we draw from these results?

If you're billable, you're in good shape. If you can perform engineering, architecture, or design duties to help your company meet critical project timelines, you're much more likely to stay employed.

If you have no interest in being billable, you're in trouble. For those CAD managers who perform no billable activities, life is going to be increasingly tough. I've personally spoken with many senior management staffs who confirmed this conclusion.

Be ambidextrous. It is clear that companies want employees who can produce billable hours, but it is also clear that CAD management is a needed commodity. Therefore, CAD managers who possess solid production skills that can generate billable hours become ideal employees.

Slashed Overhead

I've always found that senior management staffs hate overhead costs, but I was curious as to whether CAD managers were assuming the associated responsibilities. When I asked CAD managers if they were under pressure to reduce department overhead, I received the following results:

There's really only one conclusion to draw from these results: Your senior managers want you to help them cut overhead costs! Therefore, anything you can do to help increase productive time while reducing overhead will make you look good. But how can you accomplish that?

Make training and standards project-based. Any time spent on standards and user training must be focused to make projects more productive. This will allow you to charge any CAD management time you spend to a billable project rather than to overhead.

Use lunch breaks to educate and update. You can still do general CAD management tasks without generating overhead by using the lunch hour to conduct general training sessions. Likewise, you can plug away at tasks like updating libraries of components or details during your lunch break. I hate losing lunchtime as much as you do, but sometimes it is the only option.

Consider outside contract help. If you hire an external resource from your software dealer or an independent contractor, you'll only pay them when they are needed, and that cost will be tallied against an operational budget rather than overhead.

Summing Up

The main lesson I learned from the mini-survey is that CAD management is taking a back seat to cost reduction and higher billable rates for all employees. Therefore, CAD managers must emphasize their technical background and market their CAD/computer expertise as a bonus that differentiates them from other technical personnel.

And while I wish the economy were better, it is at least good to know that CAD managers with solid technical backgrounds are as marketable as anyone else in today's market.

Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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