Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shortage of engineers? The President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness thinks so...

From Paul Otellini, a member of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (and the CEO of Intel):
A chronic shortage of engineering students threatens America’s role as the world’s leading innovator and continues to impede our nation’s fragile economic recovery. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of engineers graduating in the United States has stagnated, while India and China surpass us with rapid progress... 
The council’s high-tech education task force is focused on programs that will yield 10,000 more engineering graduates in the United States each year and begin to address the long-term threat of our nation’s growing skills crisis. This goal requires a commitment, starting at the top, from of all U.S. firms that employ engineers... 
Education Department data show that overall college graduation levels the past two decades have grown about 50 percent, with the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded increasing from 1.1 million in 1990 to 1.6 million in 2010. During that same period, however, the National Center for Education Statistics has found that the number of engineers U.S. colleges and universities annually send into the workforce has virtually stagnated at around 120,000. By contrast, roughly 1 million engineers a year graduate from universities in India and China. This education disparity threatens to slow our economic recovery, stunts our long-term competitiveness and leaves technology firms in a skills crisis... 
In the coming months, the task force will roll out critical elements for success — a plan for direct student engagement and university incentives, and the formation of a consortium of companies committed to making a difference. The President’s Jobs Council plans to hold a listening-and-action session in Portland, Ore., at the end of this month at which deans from America’s top engineering colleges, students pursuing degrees in math and science, and representatives from innovative U.S. companies can share perspectives and determine next steps.

I honestly don't know if there's a shortage of engineers in this country. But I am skeptical of this talk, very skeptical. 


  1. You're not the only one who's skeptical:

  2. The poor education in math & sciences may partly play a role in decline of engineering students as underlying factor. I wonder if it is more because most people who are considering engineering realize the work/reward equation greatly favors business or law school majors (seemingly unlike many prospective science majors).

    It may be a "shortage of engineers who actually do engineering" does exist. Many beginner engineering jobs can be really dull/sh*t work positions verses training required (often worse than entry level lab) and because engineers typically have more mobility opportunities (to sales, BD, business, management or operations areas) they shift to more exciting/higher salary paths (count how many engineers 5 year post graduation you know doing true engineering verses some other function?)

  3. Trouble is, the #s don't tell the story. I can't speak to anything outside of chemistry, but my (purely anecdotal) experience with chemists from the PRC and India is that the ones from the top schools (IIT, SIT) are great, but the dropoff is pretty steep. I've seen grad students from 2nd and 4rd tier Indian schools (with Master's degrees, yet) who had a hard time with stoichiometry.

  4. My favorite part is that rather than use percentage of graduates, he just uses flat numbers to make the US look un-competitive. Never mind that the populations of both India and China are over a billion while the US is a fraction of that, if we aren't producing a million engineers we aren't doing enough!

  5. Engineers are having some hard times these days. I'm not disputing that we may be losing our competitive edge with R and D, but at the end of the day, nobody is willing to PAY us to do the work. It's obvious that the harder work for less job stability is probably scaring people away from the profession.

  6. Based on their near-monopoly on microprocessors, Intel enjoyed a $3 billion profit in Q1; acquired several companies in the past few years; leads the industry in processing technology; and yet it's just sooooo darn hard to find engineers nowadays.

    This has nothing to do with K-12 education and everything to do with Wall Street, labor costs, immigration policy, and globalization. You need higher salaries, better career prospects, and a better lifestyle to attract smart people. That's not going to happen with shareholders yelling about next-quarter profits and with an organization trapped in a calcified, stale business model. So you've got to attract foreign talent with permanent residency sponsorship to take up the slack. That or you begin shifting operations overseas to cut costs. Either way, those jobs aren't going to American engineers.

    There's nothing mysterious here. Experienced petroleum engineers are pulling in $250,000, but Exxon isn't whining about engineer shortages. And students--those poorly-educated American kids--are going into petroleum engineering in droves. Chinese LED manufacturers are also paying up to $250k for experienced MOCVD engineers. US manufacturers would never pay an engineer that much...unless he transitions to management.

  7. Yeah what does "engineer" mean anyway? In my chronically under-networked Chemistry department, one of the few real career prospects available to us physical chemists is that many of us wind up going to become process engineers at Intel in Portland. The job is 0% new research, 100% "make this thing work better / faster / more reliably." The new research, if Intel even does this in-house anymore, is done far away.

    Is this the type of "engineering" that Otellini is talking about? If so, it's no wonder he's having problems finding staff... You're not designing the next generation of solar cell, you're not curing cancer... You're pumping 60 hour weeks to "work out the bugs" so Intel go from their 21 nm process to their 18 nm process. Doesn't that just sound thrilling? Who *wouldn't* want that life?

    Contrast that to software engineers, who get to go to work in arrested-development man-child playlands with ball-pits and bouncy houses to help them "unwind," and it's not much surprise that the head of Intel is crowing about an "engineer shortage."

  8. @9:54 on that note talk to any engineer that works at Intel. It is a scary high pressure place (I've often heard of it as a "marriage breaker"). I wonder if being a relative monopoly makes the barrier for leaving Intel for other work that much more difficult?

  9. You know, I remember a father of a childhood friend describing classic biotech/academic hours during his times at Intel (in the early '80s), i.e. sleeping under his desk, etc.

    @Anon9:59: Process improvement is honorable work! Also, I don't know where their cutting-edge R&D is; I suspect it's US-based, but I dunno.

  10. @Anon10:05 (Anon9:54 here)

    I know plenty of Intel engineers. Well, mostly former Intel engineers now. Most of the guys and gals who signed up for Intel after graduating have left for other companies in the industry (manufacturers and equipment venders) but also national labs, business school, small colleges, solar cell manufacturers... But nobody gets gold watches. That goes for the entire industry.

    Process improvement is indeed honorable work. However, even at the Portland Technology Development (PTD) R&D fabs, process engineers get limited chances to run experiments. One or two weeks a year is what I was told. The rest of the time, you follow the recipe, maintain your tool, and troubleshoot. This is what passes for R&D.

    For the most part, the real process development is done by the equipment and materials venders. They come up with new equipment designs, chemicals, etc. But even there, it's usually a matter of adapting something discovered at a university and turning the knobs until it meets tolerances. They don't do much "R" at all.

    For the time being, semiconductor R&D is still being done here by Intel, IBM/AMD, Micron, Applied Materials, KLA-Tencor, etc. I've heard, however, that the venders are now turning east for growth. I'd bet it won't be long before more and more of their R&D is done in Korea, Taiwan, and mainland China.

  11. @Chemjobber : Don't get me wrong, process engineering is very important. Didn't want to belittle that... I think that as scientists though, we tend to be much more attracted to "save the world"-type problems rather than "help get that last 0.5% efficiency." Or maybe that's just me.

    @Anon11:41 : Thanks for the insightful comments, I've heard as well that Intel looks to the equipment vendors for R&D.

  12. Anybody need a very talented Electrical Engineer? I know one that has been looking for 7months+. Recent grad (BS) from good school.

  13. @Anon224: He/she will have a hard time if he/she isn't from MIT, Caltech, Stanford, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Carnegie Mellon, Rice, Michigan, Purdue, Cornell, or Cooper Union.

  14. @anon531: Any suggestions for those who are not from those schools?

  15. Anon618: Follow Dolph Lundgren's path and become a B-movie star...he gave up a Fullbright scholarship to pursue a ChemE PhD at MIT. If you're physically attractive, you could become a model like Cindy Crawford, who incidentally was a ChemE major at Northwestern. Otherwise, you could try to hawk your math and analytical skills to an investment bank, provided that you have no qualms about making the Rich richer and squeezing the Middle Class. Regardless of your inclinations, do NOT throw your youth away to pursue a PhD in science or engineering.

    Hope that wasn't too cynical for ya!

  16. "Howard took the time to tell press about his preparation for “Hustle and Flow,” and how his original career aspirations- chemical engineering- were waylaid by inevitable acting success."

    Watching a young, intelligent person commit to a science career is like watching someone choose unknowingly choosing to drink a bottle of poison. It's depressing to watch, but oh well.

  17. Did I just witness the birth of the Chemjobber "Job Club?" Better alert the ACS! 8-P

  18. Marketplace talked about this story yesterday as well. The prof they had on was skeptical about a US shortage but did say there is a shortage in Silicon Valley. Also, the numbers are a little misleading - almost half of the engineering grads these days are foreign students and many return home now instead of staying in the states. (This is what Marketplace said I have no idea whether this is true or not.)

    If you look behind the numbers for chemistry, the only reason that chem Ph.D.s numbers still go up is that women & foreign students are making up the numbers. The number of US men getting chem degrees is going down slowly (IIRC).

  19. When government says "STEM," it means "computers." That's where the majority of STEM employment is. (No surprise, if you think about it.)

    Unfortunately, EVERYONE gets lumped into that category. So we hear about shortages that simply do not exist outside IT and computer science.

    I wish some news outlet would figure this out. It would sure change the debate...what there is of it.

  20. I'd be worried about training for an easily-outsourced IT job.

  21. Let's get one thing straight:

    There is a shortage neither of scientists nor engineers in this country.

    But there is a shortage of CHEAP scientists and engineers in this country. Enter the "Science Crisis" fiction machine.

    Someone said watching a kid commit to science is like watching him drink a poisoned drink. I drank that poisoned drink, and I did not like it.

    With a B.S. in Physics and an M.S. in Materials Engineering, I've decided to short this circuit out - I'm abandoning science and engineering permanently. And I don't regret it.

    Most offers I've gotten (not many) have been from the Semiconductor industry. They pay poorly, and they are not steady. They are generally contractor positions paying in the low $20/hr - in uber-expensive areas to live in, like Boston, MA and Westchester county, NY. Thanks. I can now afford to live in a ghetto area of these tremendously expensive cities, while I pay back my $50K of educational debt.

    Meanwhile, I've found that other career paths - e.g. technical writing, business analytics - treat you better. The companies are not dead-set on offshoring their facilities to Asia. Their salaries are actually higher than most entry-level engineering positions I've been considered for. They don't require you to work in India setting up a fvcking ion implanter for Intel because Intel didn't want to keep its manufacturing in the States. And they don't expose you to Arsenic, gamma radiation, 330KV voltages, and nasty acids and explosive gases (e.g. Hydrofluoric acid which will eat you from inside out, and explosive Silane, both of which are widely used in the Semiconductor industry).

    The real question is: What the fvck keeps american kids coming into science? One is one too many.

    When they care about us, we'll care about their stupid science.

  22. @Anon 7:58

    You're not alone man, not at all.

    Wanna work in chem? Set your starting salary at $30K, you'll be competitive. Learn to live in an RV, you'll need to move a lot.

  23. I don't agree with Mr. Wadhma's prescriptions completely ("cool"...really?), but he's otherwise right...


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20