@Alexander Wolfe: Thanks for sharing the interview with Craig Barrett. I strongly agree with him that a big part of our problem is at the K-12 level, and I agree that we should try to bring our K-12 education system up to the level of other developed countries. However, I don't quite see how judging our educational performance based on international standards -- in itself -- will accomplish anything. It's one thing to say that we ought to meet international standards. Ok, good. But how do we get there? As all engineers know, quantifying a problem is different from solving it.
Barrett is also right when he says that "the 30% of the kids in the U.S. who don't even graduate from high school are boat anchors around the economy's neck." We have a tremendous amount of potential talent which is going to waste at all levels. As a country, we simply can't afford this. Maybe we could afford it when, as Barrett says, the U.S. was "the only game in town." We aren't the only game in town anymore, and we need to make sure that all of our students have the opportunity to realize their full potential.
@Michael Grieves: You seem to be illustrating my point about parochialism. Maybe philistinism would be a better word. Are physics and math departments necessary for effective engineering education?Maybe not. But there are other good reasons to have physics and math departments, which have nothing to do with engineering.
As much as it might be pleasing to us to think so, the world doesn't revolve around us engineers. And believe it or not, it's possible for something to have value beyond its value to engineers.
Do engineers need to learn string theory, look for the Higgs boson, study stellar formation, etc.? Of course not. These things are important, not because they have anything to do with engineering, but because they advance the state of human knowledge. This is a good thing, in and of itself.
You also seem to be taking for granted that the Texas politicians' decision about which schools "can't support physics departments" is well-founded. I'm not sure that relying on the wisdom of politicians is always a good idea.
Will other universities continue to do physics research? Undoubtedly. But I wish I could share your Pangloss-like optimism that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
One of the things that happening in automation and control regarding senior staff is that plants are automating some of the processes that used to be in the heads of senior staff. The younger staff doesn't know when the plant doesn't sound right. Now automated diagnostics and prognostics do the detecting.
Chuck, I was wondering more about the employer end of things--meaning when are they going to start hiring older, more knowledgeable workers? And especially in engineering? According to Trend B, they're supposed to be figuring out pretty soon now that they need to do so. From what Rob said, it looks like this awareness hit automation already but my question is, has it hit any other engineering disciplines?
To Alex's point, I completely agree with Barrett. I adored science as a kid, and I received an excellent education in it. It was fun and the teachers made it fun. This whole approach seems to have vanished from schools. But math was not at all fun until 9th-grade algebra, and that was because of an exceptionally gifted teacher.
TJ, I couldn't agree with you more. I don't for a minute believe that most older engineers don't have or won't acquire the skillset--I've known too many of them personally--nor do I believe that young, untrained, inexperienced people in any discipline can do as well as or better than senior staff. I was simply reporting the hype I've heard, and it's clearly an argument for saving money.
And Rob, it's good to know that the problem did not happen in A&C, but it's also good to know that at least some companies recognize what a problem losing their institutional knowledge can cause.
I thought it would be of interest to readers of this piece to check out an interview I did a year ago with former Intel chairman Craig Barrett, who has a strong and ongoing interest in STEM. See "Innovation Mandate: An Interview with Craig Barrett." Here's the most important quote: "We do on average a terrible job of educating our young people in mathematics and science. That in itself is almost an automatic filter against those young people going to college and majoring in mathematics and science. It's not so much a culture problem, but it's a K-through-12 problem, which then impacts all of our young people."
Ann: I for one would not be thrilled if Trend B impacts Trend A. I'd really prefer that Social Security be available for awhile. In answer to your question, though, I don't think Trend B will affect Trend A until it becomes abundantly clear to Baby Boomers that they have little or no retirement income.
It's not a matter of skill set Ann. It's another aspect of the economics of the title of the article. I'm moving into that older engineer realm. I'm more than happy to learn new skills; I like learning. But I expect to be paid for my skills and experience, and there lies the rub. Companies don't want to pay for that experience. Hiring young inexperienced engineers is less expensive in that mindset.
Good point on Trend B, Ann. This has been a challenge for the plants and their vendors. Boomers were about to retire and take their knowledge with them in 2008. The automation industry was quite concerned. Then the economy took a dive and dragged 401Ks down with it. So many boomer postponed their retirement, the problem went away, at least temporarily. I would imagine depressed demand also took the pressure off.
Fifty-six-year-old Pasquale Russo has been doing metalwork for more than 30 years in a tiny southern Italy village. Many craftsmen like him brought with them fabrication skills when they came from the Old World to America.
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