Can government support for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education fill the pipeline with more engineers? That's the topic posed for discussion on our LinkedIn Systems & Product Design Engineering group. It's the second leg to last month's column where readers weighed in on government support for US manufacturing technology.
Paradoxically, though most commenters want Congress to keep the government mitts off of business regulations, they're generally in favor of funding for tech education.
PE Brian Hibshman's comment reflects that dissonance. "I do think STEM is important for our nation going forward, and as such, money would be better spent there than many other places it is currently spent," he said. "But in general, I am for smaller and less intrusive government. My perception of what's driving manufacturing overseas is economics, rather than the available pool of talent, so I think funding of research and STEM would not do a great deal for manufacturing in the US."
Senior product engineer Eric Niemi says the federal government should fund education for US citizens. "Why not support students seeking a degree in STEM fields? Degrees in other fields of study do not create manufacturing jobs. The US educates the world, why not give our own students an edge?"
Consultant Louis Giokas agrees but goes a step further. "We need some way to motivate our people to go into the STEM fields," he says. "This includes supporting them and de-supporting other fields from the government level. If someone wants to take sociology or English, they are free to do so, [but] government support should not be provided. There is no social good being done there, unless these individuals are planning on becoming teachers."
Action is more important than advocacy, according to Michael Grillo, an engineering recruiter. "Programs such as STEM are a good foundation, but it can't be all about talk, it needs to move to the forefront," he says. "They've been throwing money at this subject since 2005, but all I see is promotional talk and no accountability or reports of effective results."
Engineer David Bley is not optimistic:
STEM will take at least 16 years once it is implemented to produce results. Unless the program is much different than the one created after the Soviets launched Sputnik, it will be mostly ineffective. For the government to develop programs to encourage companies to add jobs is like spitting in the wind. Companies have been hell-bent on getting rid of employees for the past 30 years. They have automated, outsourced, cut pay, and downsized, all in an effort to reduce costs and increase profits. I do not believe that any government program can reverse this process.
Bley says that, in order to create jobs, "we must create small companies," Bley says, and entrepreneurial success hinges on the removal of burdens such as convoluted tax requirements and frivolous lawsuits.