Claim: Mr. President, there is no engineer shortage, at least compared to China

December 26, 2011 at 9:47 am 6 comments

Interesting response to President Obama’s call for creating many more engineers, which has started from the claim that we’re not being competitive with China’s production of engineers. This article from the Washington Post suggests that there isn’t a shortage of engineers at all in the US. It feels like the problem of determining whether or not we have enough CS enrollment — what’s “enough”?

What’s more, China’s tally of 350,000 was suspect because China’s definition of “engineering” was not consistent with that of U.S. educators. Some “engineers” were auto mechanics or technicians, for example. We didn’t dispute that China was and is dramatically increasing its output of what it calls engineers. This year, China will graduate more than 1 million (and India, close to 500,000). But the skills of these engineers are so poor that comparisons don’t make sense. We predicted that Chinese engineers would face unemployment. Indeed, media reports have confirmed that the majority of Chinese engineers don’t take engineering jobs but become bureaucrats or factory workers.

Then there is the question of whether there is a shortage of engineers in the United States. Salaries are the best indicator of shortages. In most engineering professions, salaries have not increased more than inflation over the past two decades. But in some specialized fields of software engineering in Silicon Valley and in professions such as petroleum engineering, there have been huge spikes. The short answer is that there are shortages in specific fields and in specific regions, but not overall. Graduating more of the wrong types of engineers is likely to increase unemployment rather than create jobs.

via President Obama, there is no engineer shortage – The Washington Post.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  December 26, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Do we have a shortage of “real engineers” or do we have a shortage of “real investment” in all phases of the next waves of industrial revolution?

    One dimension to consider is that new kinds of automation — especially “robot factories” specializing in automatic fabrication of both “hardware” and “software” directly from designs — should require a very different kind of “engineer”: to invent these new factories, to invent new designs to be made in the factories, and to invent the CAD and simulators to test and produce the designs.

    One could imagine an intermediate next phase as creating factories that specialize in using a certain repertoire of materials, but can make pretty much anything that can be made from these materials. I have been trying to locate any engineering university that is aiming students at this ….

    One thing that seems striking is the apparent (maybe real) disparity between even current “3D Printing” from CAD, and the relative lacks in such tool chains for software — particularly at the simulation and optimization stages.

    In any case, it looks as though an entirely new genre of industrial revolution is about to move from gestures and tests to something central and real. Both more, and different, investments in people and facilities will be required to make the move.

    And much thought will need to be given to the role of jobs over the next 100 years. Could one imagine a country paying its citizens to be good parents and good citizens? Could one imagine -our- country doing this?

    • 2. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  December 26, 2011 at 11:37 am

      CAD software has had very little improvement in the last 20 years, both for electronics and mechanical parts. It has gotten cheaper, but the user interfaces and underlying software are still essentially 1980s (or early) designs.

      There has been very little assistance from computer scientists in making the jobs of engineers more productive. The last big burst was when VLSI first became a fashionable topic in academia (over 30 years ago).

      • 3. Alan Kay  |  December 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm

        Hi “Gas”

        I think you are right about the UIs for CAD …. but simulation of both electrical and mechanical CAD (FEM, etc.) has improved to the point of being above threshold in many areas.

        And IINM automatic optimization in both areas has improved greatly — it certainly has in digital realms both for standard chips, and especially for FPGA lower level programming and routing.

        One would like to have design tools that allow staying in the realm of “design thinking”, and this seems to be really impoverished these days in both mechanical, digital and general software compared to many advances in other parts of this problem.

        • 4. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  December 27, 2011 at 6:01 pm

          I’ve been out of CAD for over 15 years, but when I got a copy of Eagle this summer to make some PCBs, it did not seem to be even as sophisticated as Magic (in user interface or routing capabilities), which was a VLSI CAD tool from the 1980s. Undoubtedly there are better tools out there (I’m using the free version of Eagle), but from what I’ve heard from the EEs, the Cadence tool suite is still an awful pain to use.

          I think that most of the advances in logic minimization also happened about 20 years ago, though I’ve not been following the field for the last 15.

  • 5. Edward Bujak  |  December 26, 2011 at 10:45 am is great.

    Two interesting takes:
    [1] Back in 1953 there was a STEM shortage? Wow, even before Sputnik (1957). Now I am confused. :)
    [2] Adults back then worried that comics would produce delinquents. Adults worry too much. Youth are resilient.

    Let me see, America is still the best at hosting the most creative minds and original work. OK, we are not good at mass production, but we create.

    The direct link to GE’s comics pushing STEM in 1953 is:

  • 6. Alfred Thompson  |  December 26, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Everyone wants to reduce this to a numbers game as if it were that simple. It is not as if we know all the problems that need to be solved let alone how many engineers it would take to solve them. I think far too many are willing to let the R&D go the way of manufacturing – off shore.


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