I know many parents that don't let their kids play video games, especially PC video games, until they are very old, 8-10 yo.
While I played PC games when I was 4 yo. My father even made a simple space invader style shooter game for me.
Most kids and teens I know have zero clue about computers, electronics, etc, past taking to the repair shop.
I worked with circuits and built computers from a very early age.
In other words, I am an engineer, while these kids I know are looking to get into the art fields. They may make it big, but there is a high chance they will not. I think exposing children to something more complex than passive LEGOs is a great idea. Circuit kits, LEGO Mindstorm robotics sets, and computer programming is essential. Whether they become engineers or the next pop-star, the exposure will expand their minds.
Good article and I agree that it is very important to introduce hungry young technical minds to engineering at an early age. Many of us can trace our decision to pursue engineering back to early exposure to technology at a young age.
With that said, not everyone will choose technology as a career. Some choose to focus on people skills, business skills, etc. instead of an engineering path (which is good because today's multi-faceted society needs all kinds of expertise in order to run smoothly).
Excellent article. With the current focus on STEM education, there is going to be an public debate on how to improve our educational system in these areas. Will be interesting to see what kind of ideas get funding, and what grass root initiatives may emerge as important. Thanks.
Having spent 20 years in engineering education and 20 years in industry as a design/project engineer, I still find myself drawing on 'hands-on' experiences with machinery and ag-systems from being involved with the family farm operation during my youth. While building with Lego's is good, it doesn't compare to repairing a truck/tractor/harvestor on which the family depends for its living in the middle of seeding/harvest with the weather bearing down (within ages 10-17). Likewise, many 'budding engineers' worked as a pre-teen and teenager in their family-owned service station, repair garage, or small manufacturing operations. Such were the background experiences of many who entered engineering in the past. Unfortunately, most young people today don't have the opportunity for those experiences.
One thing we have lost that we need to regain is the excitement you mentioned that was generated by the space race. For our son's 13th birthday we traveled to the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis in order for our family to participate in the viewing on the Harlan J. Smith 107-inch Telescope that is held 10-12 times a year and must be reserved well in advance. We were very blessed to have the director of McDonald Observatory, Dr. Lambert, as the guide for our evening. He knew the value of generating excitement in young people for the stars. Our son was the only "young person" in attendance that night and Dr. Lambert allowed him to enter data into the computer and push the button that controlled the telescope. He also invited him to help track a star after the formal presentation was done - and our son got to sign the logbook as the observer for that star for that night. Our son walked away from that experience excited about the possibilities that science offers well beyond what he had experienced in school. Somehow we need to find ways to generate that same excitement in this generation. We were watching an old godzilla movie on television the other day and our son was amazed, but not as we were when we watched the original so many years ago - he was amazed at the low level of special effects. With the advent of computer graphics that can create ultra-realistic effects, our kids have lost the ability to be awestruck with wonder at creation and to thirst for the possibilities that exist...we need to get that back...
If you want your children to be able to make a living in their chosen field then you definitely DON'T want them going into engineering, ESPECIALLY anything dealing with computers and software! The large corporations have successfully outsourced as many jobs as they possibly could in this field to countries where engineers make VERY low wages, and the ONLY reasons you see this big "push" for STEM are a) the teachers' unions lobby to get large infusions of extra cash for teaching this material, b) the parents of current engineers definitely are not recommending that their sons or daughters get into this field so these companies need to find new "suckers", and c) these industries COUNT ON there being a continuous "surplus" of skilled engineering labor so they can keep wages and working conditions as poor as possible. You ought to trust me on this, I USED to consider myself a "proud working EE" who made some major contributions to the state of the art, but I haven't found employment in my chosen field in YEARS and have given up trying out of frustration. Is that a future you want for your children? OF COURSE some kids will "have an aptitude for" science and math, and to participate in designing video games or playing with robots is a big draw for a high svhool kid, but soomer or later you have to PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE. Tell them to go into medicine or law or even teaching, ANYTHING but putting more engineers onto the welfare rolls!!
Your post just makes me sad. Your tone, if i'm readin it right, also makes me think that one of the reasons you have not been able to find work as an EE is you. I'm a mechanical engineer with over 25 years and ongoing employment and I truly enjoy most of what I do. I have been told I was selected for a job in part because of my enthusiam, positive attitude, and continuing curiosity and desire to grow in my field. I am surrounded by engineers that think the same way.
WE in the US need to realize that to compete in today's globalized market we have to be better than an alternative, lower wage engineer in India or China or wherever. You should read Thomas Freidman's books like "That Used to be US" to understand the challenges of a global economy.
a) I don't know where you get you information from, but there is no large infusion of cash into education these days from any public source for any purpose that is making a difference in teacher pay and benefits. Anyone who knows a teacher, union or otherwise, also knows they are under paid for the level of responsibility and amount of work they are asked to deal with. What STEM does is provide direction, maybe resources.
b) this is just bad attitude. If my children had been interested, i would have encouraged them into engineering. I do encourage those I know that are interested. I tell them I love what I do and have always been able to care for my family, BUT it is hard work.
c) There is not a surplus of engineers, although there are probably HR executives that would like us to think so to justify low offering salaries. There may be a surplus of engineers who have not kept up their skills and so are not as marketable as they would like. I field calls several times a month, even more recently, from recruiters looking for engineering talent in my field of custom machinery and factory automation.
There is a surplus of lawyers, at least where I live, and the medical field is not the gauranteed personal wealth generator it once was. Plus, good Doctors work even harder than good engineers.
If we could find a way as a society to get more young people interested in an engineering education, and willing to work, maybe we would eventually have more engineers in decision making mangement positions rather than MBAs who can not concieve of anything more than their decisions' affect on next quarter's numbers.
JimRW, as the saying goes, "you're entitled to your own opinion, you're NOT entitled to your own facts". I've seen contract rates in my field cut to BELOW THE COST it takes to go to and remain at the client site, if that's NOT a response to a surplus of engineers it sure isn't a response to a shortage! Besides READ THE POST, I'm addressing my comments particularly to the EE/CS folks. You say yourself that you're in the field of "custom machinery" (which is sort of a "boutique industry" anyway, the skills of whose players are nowhere near as "commoditized" as say aerospace) and you're an ME, and since you're having a hard time finding people I'm betting you're also in a part of the country that many folks wouldn't be particularly eager to relocate to (not intended as a slight by the way). Hear me out, all I'm really saying here is that getting a background in STEM is no guarantee that your skills will be in demand (that goes many times over for EE/CS), and unless you're content to limit to other areas and are willing to "specialize" in developing certain skills that may only be relevant to a particular industry and/or part of the country (which in itself tends to limit both your salary potential and marketability), you may find it hard to avoid long periods of layoffs, and even if you DO it's still hardly a guarantee that your company won't be purchased by some ruthless multinational behemoth who'll offshore your skills in a New York minute. That's just reality, wake up and smell the coffee!
I'm lucky, I live in the Carolinas. Come to the Southeast, try get a job in aerospace or automation. We have both. Energy is big as well, and our manufacturing sector is also showing some signs of hiring growth. Even some banks have shown interest in graduating Engineers because ofthe problem solving skills taught.
Lots of the calls I get are to ask if I know any EE's and/or programmers. Project managers, too. Of course, EEs in my business do seem to work more than the rest of us, but maybe it's because they start after the mechanical engineering work is mostly complete and get called for service more often.
To be successful today you have to change to adapt to the changes in the market as individuals, it's not just something companies need to do. The surplus (and price crash) you're experiencing may be specific to the market you're trying to work in. I've seen friends (programmers) have similar problems and they've shifted their skills to other areas. Or sold their talents as worth the higher pay compared to the cheaper alternatives.
I still think you are wrong to denigrate the entire STEM field because of your bad experience, which is by its nature very personal and specific.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.