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Dr. Robert A. Frosch
Let me turn now to the current manpower situation. The market demand for new engineers receiving their bachelor's degree has continued to be strong, and competitive forces have kept the entering salaries of engineers at a high enough level to attract U.S. engineering graduates into industry in comparision with the possibility of continued education for advanced degrees. The 1981 edition of the Engineers' Salaries: Special Industry Report by the Engineering Manpower Commission (EMC) of the AAES, which has just been published, note that the median salary for a new engineer with a BS degree and no experience has increased by 11.7% since the 1980 survey. In data obtained from a sample of engineers surveyed as part of "A Pilot Study of the Demand for Engineers," published by the EMC in April of this year, only 0.84% of those responding report themselves as "unemployed, not retired." Leland J. Walker, President of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc., notes in a letter that: "engineering degrees were 7 percent of the total degrees in 1981, yet they received 63% of the job offers.'
In the face of this strong demand for engineers with BS degrees, it has become clear that while industry requires some number of engineers with graduate degrees, the economic bidding for them has been insufficiently strong to result in salary differentials between those with graduate degrees and thosé with bachelor's degrees sufficiently large to be an incentive for a large number of U.S. engineers to continue in graduate school. The same forces have continued to reduce the attractiveness of academic careers, in comparision with the attractiveness of industrial careers, either for newly graduated engineers or for many faculty members already in universities. Thus we have continued to see few U.S. engineers electing graduate work, and a continuing drain of faculty members from the academic life into industrial jobs.
It must also be said that some of the pressures in this direction are not purely economic, but have been increased by the decreasing attractiveness of academic life forced by the nature of these crisis pressures, and by other bureaucratic changes. The continuing decrease of faculty and of graduate students has led to situations in which large undergraduate loads lead to larger classes, to increased teaching loads, and to fewer opportunities for professional research. This combination has led to a perceived continuing lowering of the quality of academic life, and a decrease in the incentive to enter it or to continue in it.
These problems of academic life have been compounded by the continuing increase of association of government funding of research with a collection of regulatory processes, which, as an experienced government official, I would have to describe as an extension of irrelevant aspects of government life to academic life. These include the introduction of timekeeping accounting procedures into academia that have not been demonstrated to be useful in academic life, or even in many aspects of government life. There has been no demonstration that these accounting procedures produce anything, or assure anybody of any protection against bad practice. In my opinion they merely open Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:
It is a pleasure to appear before you again to testify on various aspects of concerns about engineering manpower. In the seven months since I last testified before you on this subject, there has been a considerable amount of discussion, organization, data taking, and the beginnings of new private action on engineering manpower & particularly on engineering education. This morning, as the first speaker, and as the spokesman for the American Association of Engineering Societies, thus representing the profession of engineering generally, I shall take the privilege of making an overview of the situation, commenting on a variety of issues. I will outline the various subjects of discussions, and describe some aspects of the problem that need further study, as well as some kinds of action which it is important for the various concerned portions of society to undertake. I assume that various other participants in this hearing will describe particular activities that their portions of the system have undertaken.
I will begin by making a few remarks about the role of engineers in economics and national life. It is important to remember that, by themselves, economic manipulations, financial manipulations and management produce nothing. They provide capabilities and opportunities which may be used for innovation and production by others; they are at most a framework within which real action is taken.
The role of the engineer is to provide the translation of knowledge and understanding into the design and the production of products and of the solid technical infrastructure by which the society runs. Without some group of people functioning as engineers there will be little development of new products, particularly of the technologically sophisticated new products which have been the important hallmark of U.S. competitiveness in the world. It must be remembered that even our strength in agricultural production and export has come about through engineered improvements and better technology for the use of water, chemicals, machinery, and the manipulation of land. The same is true of industrial processes, and of the products that we consume and that we depend upon for export in international competitive trade. A shortage of engineering capability would lead to great difficulty in maintaining our productivity, our innovation and our competitiveness in the world.
It is also the case that those things that government does, including the provision of national security and national defense, the space program, the ability to regulate environmental and health concerns intelligently, all depend on the ability of engineers and scientists in government to understand the technical and technological factors that must be dealt with in these subjects. In this sense, the government itself must continue to be an employer and user of engineers and scientists.
an easy door to worse practice on the part of those few individuals who are dedicated to taking advantage of the system. This subject, however, is really rather digressing from my main theme.
Difficulties in academic staffing have been somewhat alleviated in many universities by the use of foreign engineers as faculty members. This practice, however, raises two problems. The first, of course, is whether these engineers are in effect immigrants, and therefore permanent recruits to the U.S. scene, or whether they are merely a temporary force which will go back to their home countries after a while. I do not consider that we have adequate data on this question. The answer clearly bears on the future health of engineering faculties.
The second problem posed by foreign-born engineers in the teaching profession may be described simply as language problems, in some cases compounded by cultural differences from the students they are teaching. I am myself inclined to regard these difficulties as relatively easy to overcome; new foreign faculty members might simply be required to take intensive english language training and possibly some cultural orientation, as part of their early faculty work. Thus this seems to me to be a problem which could be overcome.
The size of undergraduate engineering enrollments has now grown to the point where some schools have had to respond to the shortage of faculty and facilities by limiting the number of students that they will accommodate in engineering. This may limit their problems, but whether this measure leads to a satisfactory national, or even local, situation remains to be seen.
It is a question whether the increase in class sizes for a relatively fixed or even decreasing faculty size, the problems of academic quality of life, and the shortage of modern teaching equipment will leave us in a satisfactory position with regard to the quality of engineering education, even with class size limits. Many state schools may not legally limit their enrollments in this
Their educational processes are in danger of breaking down under the pressure.
The comments of Deans of engineering suggest that while the quality of undergraduate students is very high, they have some concern as to whether the strain placed upon faculty and facilities may not be leading to difficulty in maintaining the quality of engineering education. Some Deans feel strongly that the quality of undergraduate engineering education has been forced to decline, and I understand that the number of engineering schools being granted only provisional accreditation is increasing.
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I should also note that the Engineering Manpower Commission of AAES, under an NSF grant, has begun work on the problem of constructing a suitable model of the education of engineers, so that the flow of engineers from academic studies into the profession can be understood, and perhaps predicted, with greater certainty than now possible.
I should now like to make a few remarks about the question of demand for, and utilization of, engineers before turning to the question of the roles of the various sectors of society. We, of course, are not more able to predict the demand for engineers over the next decade or two than we are able to predict the state of the economy, the level of production and business activity that the economy will both support and require, or the effect of weather upon agricultural productivity five years from now. What we really can say is that the demand continues to be very high, and the estimates made by various industries, for example the electronic and computer industry, suggests that in those industries they see a continuing high demand.
In an attempt to obtain additional data, the EMC did a survey of the views of a sample of engineers, and a sample of employers of engineers, concerning the expected demand for engineers a year ahead. I have already quoted unemployment statistics from the published EMC report, "A Pilot Study of the Demand for Engineers 1980". The aggregate of employers surveyed noted that, as of 1 May 1980, they had vacancies for engineers equivalent to 9% of the number of engineers they employed, that they had had a 6% growth in net hires for engineering jobs in the previous year, and expected at 6.1% growth in engineering jobs in the coming year. This expectation was unevenly distributed over specialties, running from a 3.5% growth expectation for chemical and industrial engineers to an 8.1% growth expectation for electrical (which includes electronic and computer) engineers.
The picture is complicated by the fact that employers indicate that the separations of experienced engineers (including retirements) are expected to exceed hires of experienced engineers (but we do not know how much of this is due to normal retirements) by even more than in the 1979/1980 period. This suggests that the hiring demand for new graduates will continue to increase.
Nevertheless, we have seen such predictions change abruptly in the past when there were changes in the economic situation, or in government policy with regard to space or defense, or public works, or other policy matters (such as tax details and regulations) which changed many factors in the economic environment in an abrupt manner. Therefore, while we can make extrapolating models which use the estimates made by the consumers of engineers, their employers and the parts of the economy in which they work, we can by no means be sure of of the stability of these predictions in the face of actual unpredicted, and probably unpredictable, events. We can only be sure, however, that if the society is to continue more or less in the nature of its past performance that there will be a continued strong demand for engineers.
We also know that over a very long period there has been a continued steady and generally increasing demand for engineers. The variations in this demand have tended to be short term, and their statistical effect has generally been small. The decreases have, however, had serious personal effects on a percentage of the engineering population. These personal effects were compounded by difficulties in the movement of the engineers affected from one part of the profession to another, and from one part of the country to another. Professional mobility can be enhanced by opportunities for continuing education; these opportunities can be and are provided within the engineering profession by the structure of professional societies and engineering schools, as well as by special commercial ventures. The geographic mobility problems, however, are not controllable by the engineering profession alone, but depend upon housing markets and mortgage markets and thus are a function of the overall state of the economy. It is my estimate that should there be a sudden geographical shift in demand for engineers, there would be severe problems with their mobility, as with the mobility of any other kind of worker, due to the current difficulties with housing finance and prices.
Another important factor in considering the number of engineers that the economic system will require is the question of the efficiency of their utilization, whether there are engineers doing work related to engineering which could be done by non-engineers, and whether engineers doing work unrelated to engineering could usefully be brought back to engineering if required.
There are two questions involved in this issue of utilization. The first is the question of whether an engineer directly engaged in the work or supervision of engineering is used to the full nature of the engineer's education and skills. This is a function of the infrastructure of support with which the engineer is surrounded. One must inquire whether the engineer has easy access to the data that is needed, whether there is adequate support by technicans, whether there is adequate support by computers, experimental equipment and shops.
This subject is going to be examined by the Engineering Affairs Council of the AAES with a particular emphasis on seeking examples of situations in which engineers are used with high productive efficiency. The characteristics of these situations may be used as examples which other parts of industry may emulate to make impovements in their efficiency of their utilization of engineers.
I touched upon the second aspect of utilization of engineers a moment ago. There are a number of engineers who, in the course of their careers, move out of engineering, either in terms of design and construction work, or even in