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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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  • Looking back... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @07:29PM (#39359029)

    Don't the booms in STEM careers seem to come around times when the regular person finds more interest in them? Make them interesting again and people will flock to them. Glorify worthless endeavors and people will flock to those. How many children chose to go into engineering fields because of the space race? I'm betting a lot. How many today are instead following in the footsteps of modern celebrities and other people and groups that the media puts on a pedestal?

    Maybe STEM just needs to be cool to Regular Joe again.

    </mini soap box>

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @07:57PM (#39359279) Journal

    There's certainly a shortage of engineers that are US citizens. If your small company can't afford the lawyering for H1-B, greencard, etc, it can really suck to find anyone remotely qualified.

    And at least in software, once you have 5+ years of experience, the field does pay pretty nicely (as long as you keep your skills up to date!). But junior engineers are so much easier to hire abroad for next to nothing, so it sucks to be a US college grad unless you're in the top few % of talent such that the top few % of companies will hire you (Google et al have the budget to overpay for new college grads, and can keep them long enough to benefit from training them - not true of most companies.)

    Back in the days when people actually stayed at companies for a long time (and loyalty went both ways), it was an easy sell to management to take the loss in hiring a junior engineer and training them up, because both the company and the employee would be around long enough to recoup that loss. But now neither is true - unless you have a name like Google, a junior engineer will likely leave as soon as he's not junior, and even if he doesn't there's a good chance the company will go under or be acquired.

    I know it's fashionable to blame the evil corporations for everything, but realistically there's been a structural change in the industry that it hasn't adapted to yet - there's not a model to follow yet! It has always been the successful leading companies in the field that took the hit in training the majority of junior engineers, but today those leaders only do that for a very small slice of top talent, and no one has filled that gap.

    And the fair result may be that being a junior engineer just pays crap, because you're competing in a global market. I think a lot of engineers would be OK with that if US companies would actually make low-wage job offers to US citizens, instead of just blindly looking abroad. Heck, my first development job paid significantly less than a "fresher" in India makes, and I got by! But companies don't seem to do that.

    Even so, you're still much more likely to find employment with a degree with "engineer" in its name than a degree with "studies" in its name.

  • Re:Simple (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @08:17PM (#39359453)
    Germany also has a pretty vibrant high-tech manufacturing sector, which requires people with all sorts of different skill sets. Part of the reason there isn't much demand in the US is we don't do much manufacturing any more, at least not on a per-capita basis.
  • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @08:19PM (#39359467)

    Focusing on hiring Americans is as close to organized labor as we're going to get in my lifetime.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @08:24PM (#39359507)

    It goes further too. Not only is he working in opposition to market forces, but if I were CEO of a company, I would rely on people like that.
    I would rely on people who would stick to engineering regardless of the pay incentives (or lack thereof), in direct opposition to market forces, due to their own personal
    preferences. I could make a mint off these people because they would continue to do the tough engineering work without the necessary pay incentives. I could consistently
    underprice the true value of their skills because they remain in the field due to personal preferences.

  • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @08:49PM (#39359691) Journal

    There's a lot of dishonesty in the job market. Qualified job seekers are rejected all the time.

    When an employer asks for 10 years of experience in 20 different languages, systems, applications, and platforms, that could say they don't want to hire anyone. They actually want to hire a cheap foreigner, or the boss's nephew, and are just going through the motions to satisfy the letter of EEOA requirements. They've already found their man, and just copied his resume to the job posting. If the position goes unfilled, then they can complain that there aren't enough qualified applicants no matter the real reason it wasn't filled. In a bigger company, there could be internal politicking going on, with one department using the hordes of hapless job applicants to send a message to other departments. It could also say they have to ask for that much so they aren't buried under resumes. Which of course happens because contrary to what they claim, there is in fact no shortage of qualified job seekers.

    To add to the fun, there are the head hunters throwing out bait, to harvest resumes.

    And job seekers are pressured to spin and exaggerate to the max without quite lying (wink, wink). Quite common for a good programmer to pick up a programming language quick, then apply for a job that asks for 10 years experience in it, and if hired, pull it off because as we all know, programming ability is not language specific.

    Another factor that shows there is no shortage of qualified people is that employers can demand that new hires "hit the ground running". In other words, applicants are expected to bone up on whatever specific technologies are wanted on their own time and dime, rather than spend a month training. Employers don't train people anymore. They've externalized that cost, and gotten away with it, demanding that schools and applicants do that. They complain bitterly that schools don't educate people right, which too often means they were educated instead of trained for a specific position. And they're quick to moan about the waste in spending money to train someone who is just going to leave them. Whether or not it's fair or appropriate, the job applicant is expected to come in already knowing many of the arcane specifics of whatever oddball setup they use.

  • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @09:36PM (#39360023)

    This is really a symptom of our monetary system. With the federal reserve and fiat fractional reserve banking system you can make more money in finance because you can literally create money. It's no wonder the people given the privilege of making money by flipping bits on a computer are rich. In a hard money 100% reserve system the miners and mints would create the money. These are engineers and techs.

    The system we have now is designed to steal wealth from productive people and transfer it to the privileged class. Tax rates don't matter when you allow people to create money out of thin air. They will always be rich.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @11:44PM (#39360749)

    Teacher unions? Give me a break!

    Let me rant In the 1960's when my father got a big promotion and then could afford to take me out of the public school system and send me to a private elementary school, I experience first hand how much I was missing and how far behind I was in math and science courses. Thank God, for my sixth grade teacher, Ms. Barbara Lewis - who I hated at the time, but now I love - made me work every math problem until I got it correct – even if I had to miss recess. Now I am a Mechanical engineer, and I enjoy my job very much. For me, designing machinery is a blast. I have so much fun that I just can not wait for tomorrow to get to work and design another world record breaker; even if my pay is just slightly below the national average for my experience and the area I live in.

    The problem I see is that companies used to consider their engineering staff as an asset to their organization, but now companies are more interested in maximizing quick profits than making a quality product, thus engineers are now seen as a liability. The attitude I see is that managers think that they can hire fresh out of school engineers with no experience, arm them with 3D modeling and FEA software to produce a design. Thus, thinking more valuable, experienced engineers are replaceable. The results I am seeing are products that have an appealing aesthetic design but are falling in delivering the type of extra performance and endurance that makes a product legendary, standing out among its competitive peers. Managers seem to be content in making the sale and dispatching service techs to fix/patch the flaws after the machine is delivered. Thus, I see no pride, or passion among the engineering staff. If the company exhibits pride it is most likely shallow pride drummed up by a sales, or a PR team.

  • by ub3r n3u7r4l1st ( 1388939 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2012 @11:53PM (#39360789)

    And this is where the problem lies... most engineers (And IT people for that matter) are too isolated and only want to do their own thing. If they learn how to gang up and form unions and start lobbying you bet a lot of change will come this way.

  • by EuclideanSilence ( 1968630 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @01:48AM (#39361355)

    You don't need a commodity based currency.

    You just need to tell the Federal Reserve to stop loaning out money altogether. The only thing they should be doing is 1:1 exchanges of US currencies (dollars to cents), and only printing to replace damaged currency. There shouldn't be more units of money in existence now than there was 100 years ago. The extra is going into the Federal Reserve's rich friends (sometimes called "investors", often overseas) pockets, a little bit at a time to a few people.

    We could at least start with auditing the Federal Reserve.

    What I completely disagree with though is the notion that deflation is necessarily a bad thing. It is bad for some bankers and the presumption that you must borrow money from some central organization in order to grow your business or finance a home, but for ordinary consumers and businesses which aren't in the financial services sector it really isn't necessarily a bad thing. The worst part right now is that the economies and financial structures of the world are geared to the presumption that inflation is inevitable.

    Regardless, if gold-backed currencies came back into vogue, the value of those metals would rise to reflect true wealth from around the world.

    I see deflation as a result of a more efficient economy. When technology makes it cheaper to create bread, the value of currency should deflate in relation to that. It's like you had 100 loafs of bread stored in the bank, and now you have 200 because better technology makes it possible for the same time investment of work. In the short term, most technology improvements are difficult to cope with, they require people to change their outlook on things. This is what is reflected in most "deflation is bad" arguments. But those who only see short term results will suffer long term consequences.

    All in all, with the technology improvements we've had in the last hundred years, our currency should have deflated tremendously, maybe even 100 or 1000 times. The interesting question then becomes, "where did all the extra money go?"

  • Lack of motivation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by andyteleco ( 1090569 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @04:33AM (#39361861)
    I studied Telecommunication Engineering in Spain. It's one of the toughest degrees in the country, with an average time of just under 8 years to complete the courses (officially it's 5 years + 1 year for the Diploma Thesis).

    When I started my studies, the entry requirements were pretty high. You needed to bring very good grades from high school to get accepted, and lots of students applied lured by good job perspectives. Of course, a great number of the ones who got accepted fell out in the first years because they couldn't cope or simply because they realized they didn't like what they were doing, but the ones who finished did get pretty good jobs for local standards.

    However, in the last 15 years everything has turned upside down. Nowadays, an engineer barely makes more than a policeman or a regular public servant for example, funding for R&D (the thing which people are willing to do without thinking so much about the money) is being cut by every government that comes and young people simply don't see any benefit in spending so many years at University, specially when it's becoming more and more expensive to study and people have less and less money.

    In the last course, an old colleague who now works as an associate professor told me that only 25% of the places offered in our course were filled, so now virtually anyone who applies gets accepted. And a great number of the engineers who study in Spanish universities emigrate to other countries (now especially to Germany) desperate to get a decent job.

    I don't know it this has anything to do with what is happening in the US but I do know in other European countries the situation is similar. Right now, there are still a few good havens for engineers in Northern Europe (Germany, Holland, Scandinavian countries), but who knows what will happen in another 15 years.
  • by orgenegro ( 1847962 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @10:25AM (#39363659) Journal
    This is far far from true. I am a lawyer, please look up the statistics for unemployment in law, particularly young lawyers, and the number of people that are finding that the job that they can find doesn't pay their loan debt. There is even outsourcing (on large document review projects). Most people who went into law are finding that the law school lied to them about their future career prospects. A very large percentage of people who went to law school end up regretting it. The career you want to be in is anything health related with the boomers aging. There are people with AA degrees that make more than I do.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.