Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Engineering is the way to bring jobs back to America

We are facing an ongoing threat to America's global economic leadership and increasing the number of engineers in our workforce is one powerful way we can change our destiny as a country.

In Silicon Valley we have one engineering job open for every two engineers that are employed - this means it is hard to find enough qualified workers and so companies move jobs offshore to India and China where they graduate many more engineers than we do. Today we simply do not have enough people trained in the "STEM" areas to staff the technology build up that is happening (STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

When Steve Jobs met with President Obama earlier this year he made this case strongly. From Walter Isaacson's new biography... "Jobs went on to urge that a way be found to train more American engineers. Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, he said, and that was because it needed 30,000 engineers on-site to support those workers. 'You can't find that many in America to hire,' he said. These factory engineers did not have to be PhDs or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing. Tech schools, community colleges, or trade schools could train them. 'If you could educate those engineers,' he said, 'we could move more manufacturing plants here.' "

But today not only do we not graduate enough engineers, women are a huge untapped resource. Less than 10% of our computer engineering graduates are women, and less than 20% of our total engineering bachelors are women - a criminal loss of potential contribution from half our workforce.

Technology is an area that is a wonderful example of American leadership. Leadership, innovation and the place where we can say "Made in the USA" with pride. Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook - all are growing, innovative global technology leaders. All are changing the world today in dramatic ways. All are essentially American and all need more engineers. Google and Microsoft both invest heavily in change agents like the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology precisely to change the ratio of men to women in engineering and so produce more qualified engineers to grow their businesses.

Just as in the Second World War we had a national shortage of skilled workers for manufacturing, today we have a critical shortage of technology workers. Women and education are the two keys to the solution.

Seventy years ago the Rosie the Riveter campaign moved 6 million women into the workforce. These women were trained and they showed that they could do the work - building the planes, ships and munitions necessary to win a devastating war.

Senator Gillibrand of New York talks about a revival of the Rosie the Riveter campaign to galvanize women to become more empowered and she speaks about the need for women to get Off The Sidelines and get more involved in politics. She's right, and it's bigger than that. The low percentages of women who graduate with technology degrees in the US shows the untapped resource. Getting women involved and into technology creates more jobs for both men and women in manufacturing and the ecosystem around the technology jobs.

We are in the middle of a 100 year technology revolution, analogous to the industrial revolution that dramatically changed the Western way of life through the 18th and 19th centuries. This technology revolution is taking us through a series of engineering inventions - the computer, the microprocessor, software applications, the internet, mobile devices and there is more to come we can only imagine.

It's time for Rosie the Engineer and Robert the Engineer. I'm a Silicon Valley high-tech CEO and I see the need first hand. We need our political leadership to invest in STEM education, and especially for our girls to bring them into the technology. It's time to put programs in place to motivate our students to get technical degrees so they can get jobs when they graduate. We need engineers, the technology jobs pay more, and they create more jobs in America for everyone.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am a 25+ year experienced PhD chemical engineer working in industry. My son recently graduated with a BS ChE and he cannot find a job. How do we reconcile his situation with statements like yours in this posting that we don't have enough engineers?

My observation is that there are a lot of job postings for engineers, but they all want someone with 2, 3, 5 years of experience and a specific set of skills so they don't need additional training to contribute NOW. So how do recent graduate engineers get those first 2 years of experience and training?

Penny Herscher said...

The first job can indeed be difficult to get into but many companies are now offering internships to help students get started. These pay a lower wage but can help the new graduate find an initial training position.

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