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Reversing the Loss of Science and Engineering Careers 375

walterbyrd writes "In response to the alleged shortages of qualified American engineers and technology professionals, numerous initiatives have been launched to boost interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers and to strengthen STEM education in the United States. Unfortunately, these programs have not proven successful, and many blame the laziness of modern students, the ineptitude of their teachers, poor parenting or, when there are no other excuses remaining, they may even jump to moral decay as a causative agent. However, the failure of STEM is because the very policies that created the shortages continue unabated. This is not a uniquely American problem. The best way to increase interest in STEM degrees is by making certain that STEM careers are actually viable."
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Reversing the Loss of Science and Engineering Careers

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  • by siphonophore ( 158996 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @07:31PM (#39359041)

    The problem with STEM jobs is that they involve actually doing things rather than directing them to be done: the lowest rung on the ladder. Nevermind that the skills required to perform these tasks are far more specialized and difficult to attain than those required by their managers. US students may have sensed that STEM careers are for suckers and are best outsourced; you need only compare the financial state of two equally intelligent 50-year-olds--a scientist and a businessman--to see why.

    Most STEM careers are not worth the effort in the US. The ones that are combine technical skills with entrepreneurship or pure luck.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @07:31PM (#39359059)


    The only way to get a raise these days is to company jump. Oh and watch out for the age barrier.

    If there were a real shortage wages would be increasing to make it more attractive and many older workers would not be passed over.

    Its not the late 90s anymore folks. You will have to make yourself stand out to be hired.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @07:32PM (#39359071)

    I have a 4 year physics degree, with 3 years experience working in a III-V semiconductor research lab, and I've been trying to find a job in science and engineering for the past 3 months. The problem here is that there is a shortage of entry-mid level jobs. Everyone is looking for 5-10 years experience.

  • Re:Real Reason (Score:5, Informative)

    by PeanutButterBreath ( 1224570 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @07:34PM (#39359097)

    So its either race with the rest of the rats in a rigged maze or you are "lazy"?

    Personally, I think that America has devalued intelligence, knowledge and hard work to the point that I can hardly blame someone who opts out. The "problem" that the powers that be are struggling with is that they want well-educated, well-trained (on someone else's dime, thanks) employees to work for returns that people of these qualities can figure out don't justify the effort.

    So they futz around and do other things, some productive, some not, but that at least match rewards to effort.

    Make engineering (or teaching etc.) a job worthy of a quality person's time and you will get an abundance of quality people. Make these careers a drag that requires a tremendous amount of risk and personal investment with the near guarantee that you will be screwed over within 5 years and you will only get people who think they can game the system.

  • by Tragek ( 772040 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @07:34PM (#39359105) Journal

    Being only a few hundred kilometres from major oil deposits, I see tonnes of people graduating from my institution with Petroleum engineering degrees. Do the majority of these people have a undying passion for the subject? Nope. The jobs are available, and they pay excellently, without having to risk fingers as a rig-pig. It's a smart choice.

    I would be curious though to see the employment rates across the US for degrees. Are there engineering degrees for which there is demand, and how does that break out of the overall statistics presented in the article.

  • by sr8outtalotech ( 1167835 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @08:04PM (#39359317)
    It's called labor arbitrage, seeking an absolute advantage in labor costs. There aren't that many incentives for a career in STEM fields. These observations are from the SF Bay Area. My friends engineering company started new engineers (EE) out at $40k. Landscapers, maids, postmen, garbage collectors and road crews all make more (get paid for overtime) and they aren't trying to pay off student loans.
  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @08:34PM (#39359585)

    By the way my pay has gone up. It's about 2.3 times larger than in 2001, though it requires moving around the country (no settling-down and raising a family). I'm surprised to hear people say their pay has stagnated.

    It has stagnated. After about 10 years of experience, a typical engineer's pay is frozen. You managed to mitigate that to a certain extent by making certain sacrifices, namely probably being a contractor and moving around a lot. Companies, with their shitty management, are constantly becoming desperate to build headcount for some project or another, so they'll hire a bunch of contractors for 6-12 months to work on that project and then get rid of them. The pay can be very good, plus you don't have that problem where you're pushed to work unpaid overtime to meet unrealistic deadlines (or, if you do work overtime, you get 1.5x pay, so you can really make bank), but the downside is that you're a hired gun with no real roots anywhere and you can't have a family, as you said. The managers you work for don't have this problem; they get to go home at 5PM to their nice house (which you could afford with your pay, but you'd be stupid to buy because you probably won't be living in that city in 2 years) and their family, while you go back to your efficiency apartment or residence inn and play with yourself.

    Aside - Someone actually *criticized* me because most of my facebook friends are girls.

    There's freaks and mental cases anywhere you go. You have to learn to ignore them.

  • by MattW ( 97290 ) <matt@ender.com> on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @09:06PM (#39359825) Homepage

    Plus, your career is over when you're 40

    I am on a team with 9 software engineers, not counting QE. 4 of the team members are definitely older than 40 (I believe one is now in his late 50s/early 60s even), and two others are in our mid-30s. No one is under 30.

    Then again, all the managers I've had here have been badasses who make huge contributions to getting good stuff out the door, too.

  • by hrvatska ( 790627 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @09:58PM (#39360167)
    In years gone by, manufacturing plants employed a large proportion of STEM graduates in what was essentially manufacturing engineering. I used to know all sorts of engineers who worked in manufacturing plants that no longer exist in the US. And not just working in the plant, but also for the companies that manufactured the equipment that the manufacturers used to make their products. Most of those jobs went away in the '80s and '90s as manufacturing was off shored. I decided to go into a STEM field because of a low level technician job I as a young person. I went to work in the quality assurance lab of a local chemical manufacturer. In this job I got to work with chemical engineers. These guys were always willing to explain why different testing procedures were done and why we looked for various results. I was also encouraged to go to college and pursue a technical degree. I did. Across the US many communities had manufacturing plants and associated facilities that provided opportunities for young people to become exposed to people in STEM occupations. Not just exposure, but often the companies would pay tuition for technicians who were pursuing BS degrees part time. My first year at university pursuing a chemistry degree was paid for by a small chemical manufacturer. Did they have a job waiting for me? No, but they could write off my tuition because it was in a field related to their business. What kind of jobs are young people get exposed to today? Retail and service. Maybe construction. Manufacturing much less so. Who do they get as career role models? Everything but engineers. They're much more likely to run into some low level manager with a degree in business administration with a concentration in retail sales who is hoping to get their MBA and move up the company ladder. So that's what they do. When the US off shored its manufacturing, it exported more than just low skill jobs. It also exported the path by which many young people entered engineering.
  • by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @11:38PM (#39360719) Journal

    You would never even see my resume because I am sixty-something.

    Very true, at least in part. There are currently good reasons for HR to quietly dispose of the resumes from people over about the age of 55. One is that they are part of a protected group -- so in the event of a sizable layoff, there would be a bunch of extra hoops to jump through to demonstrate that there was no discrimination against older workers. Note that the case law on this is generally that there doesn't have to be intent to discriminate, you're guilty even if it just worked out that way. Second is if your firm has health insurance benefits. Through no fault of their own, 55 is about the dividing line where degenerative diseases -- heart disease, cancer, strokes -- quit being unusual. Particularly at small firms, group premiums will increase sharply as you add older workers.

    For the second item, 33 of 34 OECD countries have figured out the answer -- single-payer health financing, or heavy regulation of the insurance companies so that the system functions as a virtual single-payer system. In that situation, hiring an older worker has the same effect on the firm's payments into the health care system as hiring a young worker. As a side effect -- US governments at all levels spend a bigger share of GDP on health care than almost all of the other OECD countries; but in the US that only pays for the elderly, the poor, and government employees (including the military and their dependents), while in the other 33 they manage to provide for the entire population.

  • by Benaiah ( 851593 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @01:01AM (#39361121)

    You should check out the Hays salary guide for Australian engineers. An Senior Engineer commands a $200K salary over here, and as you can guess we have record numbers of engineers at university.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson