More on the "engineering crisis"

As I noted here last week, a new study from Duke University suggests the so—called engineering gap between America and its Asian rivals China and India is a myth.  Now BusinessWeek has uncovered some possible reasons behind this "propaganda" and the detrimental effect it is having America's current high—tech workers.

After discussing the sensitive issue with the author of the Duke study Dr. Vivek Wadhwa, Mr. Pete Engardio writes:

The bottom line is that America's engineering crisis is a myth, Wadhwa argues. Both sides in the globalization debate are "spreading propaganda," he contends. India and China are using inflated engineering numbers because they want to draw more foreign investment, while fearmongers in the U.S. use dubious data either to support their case for protectionism, to lobby for greater government spending on higher education and research, or to justify their offshore investments.

Some liberals have made scary predictions that all of our best jobs are migrating to low cost Asian countries.  Promoted by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in his best—selling book The World is Flat, this fearmongering is demoralizing some American engineers.

And in the future, it will make the problem worse by scaring some of today's most talented American youngsters away from majoring in science and engineering.  Mr. Engardio goes on to say:

The debate raises an intriguing question: Does hype about the rise of India and China unnecessarily demoralize American engineers and scare U.S. students away from technical careers? Most surveys of U.S. corporate executives, after all, conclude that America is already facing a shortage of engineers in everything from software and chemicals to life sciences, and these shortfalls will worsen in coming years. Even the November survey of 4,000 engineers, by public relations firm McClenahan Bruer Communications and CMP publishing group, found that 56% said their own companies currently have a shortage of engineers.

And sadly, with so much negative news in today's mainstream media about offshoring and the decline of America's high—tech competitiveness, many current engineers do not feel appreciated.   Mr. Engardio goes on to explain:

In focus groups, engineers overwhelmingly said they believe their work is important to society. "But when we asked whether they think society appreciates what they do, they looked at us with blank faces and said, 'Are you kidding?'" says Kerry McClenahan, who runs the PR company behind the survey.

After watching my father manage a small engineering firm for many years, I admire anyone who can master the hard sciences.  As an American currently teaching business in Shanghai, I believe we should not be afraid of China and India's economic rise. As I wrote here on October 13:

It is inevitable, and probably desirable that more countries join the ranks of advanced manufacturers. America's prosperity does not rest on a foundation of others' poverty and backwardness. Our flexibility, creativity, and responsiveness to market signals, along with our traditions of hard work and the rule of law will keep us ahead.

Regardless their age, all Americans should continue to focus on developing the creative and analytical skills needed to compete in an innovative workplace.  While we must continue to make investments in education opportunities and public infrastructure, it is important not underestimate America's hidden strengths.

Brian Schwarz   12 27 05

As I noted here last week, a new study from Duke University suggests the so—called engineering gap between America and its Asian rivals China and India is a myth.  Now BusinessWeek has uncovered some possible reasons behind this "propaganda" and the detrimental effect it is having America's current high—tech workers.

After discussing the sensitive issue with the author of the Duke study Dr. Vivek Wadhwa, Mr. Pete Engardio writes:

The bottom line is that America's engineering crisis is a myth, Wadhwa argues. Both sides in the globalization debate are "spreading propaganda," he contends. India and China are using inflated engineering numbers because they want to draw more foreign investment, while fearmongers in the U.S. use dubious data either to support their case for protectionism, to lobby for greater government spending on higher education and research, or to justify their offshore investments.

Some liberals have made scary predictions that all of our best jobs are migrating to low cost Asian countries.  Promoted by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in his best—selling book The World is Flat, this fearmongering is demoralizing some American engineers.

And in the future, it will make the problem worse by scaring some of today's most talented American youngsters away from majoring in science and engineering.  Mr. Engardio goes on to say:

The debate raises an intriguing question: Does hype about the rise of India and China unnecessarily demoralize American engineers and scare U.S. students away from technical careers? Most surveys of U.S. corporate executives, after all, conclude that America is already facing a shortage of engineers in everything from software and chemicals to life sciences, and these shortfalls will worsen in coming years. Even the November survey of 4,000 engineers, by public relations firm McClenahan Bruer Communications and CMP publishing group, found that 56% said their own companies currently have a shortage of engineers.

And sadly, with so much negative news in today's mainstream media about offshoring and the decline of America's high—tech competitiveness, many current engineers do not feel appreciated.   Mr. Engardio goes on to explain:

In focus groups, engineers overwhelmingly said they believe their work is important to society. "But when we asked whether they think society appreciates what they do, they looked at us with blank faces and said, 'Are you kidding?'" says Kerry McClenahan, who runs the PR company behind the survey.

After watching my father manage a small engineering firm for many years, I admire anyone who can master the hard sciences.  As an American currently teaching business in Shanghai, I believe we should not be afraid of China and India's economic rise. As I wrote here on October 13:

It is inevitable, and probably desirable that more countries join the ranks of advanced manufacturers. America's prosperity does not rest on a foundation of others' poverty and backwardness. Our flexibility, creativity, and responsiveness to market signals, along with our traditions of hard work and the rule of law will keep us ahead.

Regardless their age, all Americans should continue to focus on developing the creative and analytical skills needed to compete in an innovative workplace.  While we must continue to make investments in education opportunities and public infrastructure, it is important not underestimate America's hidden strengths.

Brian Schwarz   12 27 05