I read magazine after magazine about the engineering shortage and lack of skilled workers. I have been in the engineering profession about 35 years. The number of engineering degrees given by the school I graduated from has declined by at least 40 percent. I read similar articles about young people not going into the science and technical fields. An interesting article by Vivek Wadhwa in the Dec. 13, 2005 edition of BusinessWeek discusses a study at Duke University and brings up some very valid points about what is counted as an engineering degree. This research challenges that the U.S. is producing more engineers than India.
There seems two distinct, but interrelated, issues here. If we were graduating engineers at the rate of the 1960s and early 70s, there would be a great surplus. But back then, we were in a technological expansion with space and defense programs, the Solid State developments and the inception of PCs. Companies were actively pursuing technological shifts. Engineers had full support staffs to help them be more productive. Today, when we hire engineers, they are expected to do most of their own drafting, documentation and clerical work.
I have no problem finding very qualified engineers and programmers to hire, that is, when we offer a competitive salary. In all the articles (arguments) from companies about the shortage of skilled workers, engineers, etc. I see no mention of the capitalist system we tend to believe in this country. When there is a shortage of gas the price goes up. An untapped resource in this country is the older engineer. Many people are retired or partly retired, but are still available for useful engineering work. Will any of these people work 60 hours a week as before? Not many! The work environment has changed not only for business, but for workers — some creativity in hiring people is required.
There has been a significant, sociological change in our culture. For the last 20 years, those going into high school and college have grown up in a different level of affluence than many of the engineering students had before. Those who grew up as children of engineers seem to not understand why their engineering parents were working late hours or weekends when their friends' parents were not. The book One Church, Four Generations, by Gary McIntosh, is one of the best books on demographics I have read. It discusses how the generation of the mid-80s has a different value set. They want to do things that contribute and make a difference. Many of you may respond and say, "That is engineering," but take a different look. They probably are not as interested in landing on Mars as they are in a child who cannot walk. My own children obtained engineering degrees and a PhD in science. One is now in seminary and the other is working with animal rescues.
Engineering is a hard program, typically averaging five years by credit hours in most schools. Starting pay is pretty good, but quickly levels out. Contrast that to law, typically a seven-year program, and I think you will find a different structure of salary.
Again, the capitalistic system works. There is no shortage of lawyers or athletes. I do believe for the betterment of our society we could use more engineers and less lawyers, less billon-dollar CEOs and less $50 million athletes, but the rest of society does not have this value set. I think before we can change society we need to understand it well (just like good engineering — it is hard to fix something if you do not know what is wrong).
I am interested to know what companies would do with more engineers. Maybe they should be talking to those engineers they have and see what it would take to meet the objectives.