American Engineering Shortfall Looms

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
american engineering shortfall looms

With the auto industry in the midst of wrenching change, the most valuable resource is brainpower. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study says that the U.S. could face a shortfall of 160k engineers by 2016, but JCI-Saft CEO Mary Ann Wright thinks the situation could become even worse than that. Arguing that the BLS number doesn't take retirements into account, Wright tells "I think that's too low. Today the United States is not producing the right skill sets." Part of the problem could be the efforts to educate engineers to be better communicators rather than technical geniuses. John Fuhs of the auto supplier firm Swoboda says "We try to hire engineering people for our company, but typically they come up way short in basic skills. They made a very big point of switching 25 years ago for more rounded engineers, and that's what we got. They all want to be project managers now, but they don't know the science or what's going on to get the job done." But the problem doesn't end there, as too few American engineers are graduating to fill demand in other industries as well. So the industry has to either inspire newly-graduated engineers or hire away talented engineers from other countries. Or simply continue the trend of outsourcing product development abroad.

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  • Y2kdcar Y2kdcar on Aug 25, 2008

    z31 : You guys complaining about layoffs and such should search on usajobs for engineering positions, there are almost 10k positions open. The Gov’t can’t hire foreign nationals or offshore the engineering… Take a close look at the pay rates for the non-NASA and non-managerial positions. Apparently the government can't even match the low engineering pay scales in the private sector, which may explain why those thousands of positions are still open. Financially, it makes more sense for a laid-off engineer to load up on student loans, earn a law degree and make his living chasing ambulances than to take a job in his field at an abysmally low salary. If engineers were paid commensurate with their training and skills, there would be no talk of shortages.

  • ChuckR ChuckR on Aug 25, 2008

    Questions for the house: 1) how many engineers do Toyota or BMW outsource? 2) same question for the Detroit 3? I don't mean for integrable sub-assemblies like seats or whole interiors. I mean the things that make a car distinct like the body, suspension and engine/drivetrain and related electronics. The rest, while important, are not nearly as fundamental. And.... "Financially, it makes more sense for a laid-off engineer to load up on student loans, earn a law degree and make his living chasing ambulances than to take a job in his field at an abysmally low salary." No, unless the engineer is able to get into a top tier school (possibly hard) and graduate in the top tenth (easier - an engineer with work/life experience should be able to rip through the 23 year old liberal arts pukes). This should get you attention and hopefully a generous offer from BigLaw. Otherwise, you've added $100K to $150K in debt and avoided making a living for three years to boot, all to start at the bottom of the law food chain. Thats a $250K to $400K total difference to make up. And what if you don't love it, and you probably won't? And don't chase ambulances, use your technical skills more productively in IP or another specialty.

  • Michael Ayoub Michael Ayoub on Aug 25, 2008

    I posted that last night and have been looking forward to read your responses all day. Thank you for the insight. I suppose what I might do is still get my undergraduate degree as a mechanical engineer, but then pursue an MBA program after. That's essentially what my father did (though substitute political science for engineering) and, well, you could say he does pretty well...

  • Hogie roll Hogie roll on Aug 25, 2008

    I have my BSME from Kettering U. I'm working my first full time job. I'm making about 30% more than the average starting salary for ME's. I don't work in the auto industry. They don't compensate enough, even though I have a great love for cars. The only industry you'll make 6 figures in 5 years at is petro-chem. I didn't go into that, but I'm still getting paid competetively with them. I'll probably be one of the top 5 earners at my 5 year HS reunion. If I stay in engineering, that will not be the case at my 10 year reunion. I'm to smart to see myself get left behind like that. If I'm hanging out with my buddy in law school, and my buddy in dental school, I will be gettin no lovin from the ladies. Not a very prestigious profession in the US apparently. An MBA or patent law degree is a certainty.