Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”But the authors, Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, begin to make mistakes when they start talking about the difficulties of hiring engineers in the US:
Another critical advantage for Apple was that China provided engineers at a scale the United States could not match. Apple’s executives had estimated that about 8,700 industrial engineers were needed to oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly-line workers eventually involved in manufacturing iPhones. The company’s analysts had forecast it would take as long as nine months to find that many qualified engineers in the United States.
In China, it took 15 days.
Companies like Apple “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. (emphasis CJ's) Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.I find this a very frustrating conversation to attempt to have with the mainstream press, who apparently don't have enough experience in technical fields or with technical people to understand what's going on here.
What is an engineer? To me, an engineer is someone who's graduated with a degree in engineering from an accredited university and then, if required, takes the needed licensing examinations to gain a professional engineer's license. But, of course, being the son of an engineer, I'd say that.
What companies want (and what they can find in China in spades, I gather) are experienced engineering technicians and/or supervisors. Someone who used to work on the line, and worked their way through their organization and are willing to relocate and/or work for a new employer. Basically, they're looking for people that in the US military would be called non-commissioned officers or senior enlisted types (corporals, sergeants, etc.) We don't have enough people at that level of experience in the US who can relocate at a moment's notice (or be willing to live in dorms, or work 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, or whatever relatively harsh conditions are going on at Foxconn City.) But they're not engineers, and Bradsher and Duhigg are fooling people who are going to be making these assertions at their Georgetown cocktail parties. "Pity, Charles, the US doesn't have enough engineers. We ought to make more of them."
(Even then, there are plenty of people who are willing to work at the crazy-go-nuts pace and conditions that an Amazon warehousing/shipping facility performs at. Are they skilled mathematical technicians? No, probably not. That might be an issue.)
Needless to say, consumer electronics assembly is something that the US has lost for the near and medium term. Obviously, that's undesirable, but that's the truth of it. I hope we are wise enough not to lose any more industries overseas.
Best wishes to all of us.