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changes in our lives over the last decades, the academic and industrial communities must continue to adapt and restructure to meet changing
These fundamental facts of the marketplace clearly are being recognized by industry. As stated by Dr. Lewis Branscomb in his testimony before this Committee, IBM has awarded 278 graduate and predoctoral fellowships in mathematics, science and engineering over the last three years. He also
stated that IBM plans to make 180 grants to universities between 1980 and 1984
to support new science and engineering initiatives chosen by the universities.
In a similar vein, Exxon Education Foundation has announced a $15 million engineering education program which will provide support for engineering doctoral candidates at 66 colleges and universities. The program also will provide funds to 100 university departments of engineering for salaries
for professors who might otherwise seek higher paying jobs in industry.
These types of actions alone will not solve the problem but they are a step
in the right direction.
The many discussions and symposia on the engineering
manpower issue have produced a variety of suggestions for additional
activities aimed at the many complexities of the problem. A key factor among
those suggestions is increased interaction among the academic and industrial
sectors and professional engineering societies.
We support the thrust of these
suggestions that recognize the appropriate responsibilities of the involved
At the same time, we believe that the Federal government, too, has an appropriate role. We must continue to reaffirm the importance of science and technology to the Nation's economic future and national security. Federal budget reductions
in science and technology R&D speak not to the value of those fields, but to
current economic conditions and the appropriate role of the Federal government. We must encourage our younger generation to seek out the challenges offered by science and mathematics and encourage them to enter rewarding careers in
the engineering field.
At the same time, we must encourage curricula which
properly prepare them to do so. Finally, we will continue to encourage
all of the sectors involved in the engineering problem to work together to
seek innovative solutions.
Presentation to the Honorable Members of the House Science · and Technology Committee
by Mr. Verne Weidman
The panel of witnesses to be heard on Oct. 6 and 7 does not include any working engineers. I am presenting my views as. a working engineer from industry. Let me also point out that I am a member of the Phila. Section, American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and active on the National Manpower Planning and Utilization Committee of the National Member Interests Committee of ASME, but today speak only for myself.
You will hear from the witnesses that more engineers are needed. This committee is examining an economic question: What will be the supply of and demand for engineering manpower over the next decade. Unfortunately this economic question is tinged by age bias.
My position is that there is no shortage of engineers, just an underutilization of the ones we have. The academic and military sectors of our economy do not pay as well for engineers as industry. They imply industry is paying too much. I say even industry pay scales do not reflect a strong demand, especially for experienced engineers. Historical patterns in engineering manpower utilization I am a survivor. A survivor of the reductions in government ASO (primarily military and NASA funding) a decade ago. These cut backs tripled the unemployment rate for engineers. This was when news stories appeared on engineers taking janitorial jobs to support their families. The trauma of reduced Funding raised our consciousness and motivated us to get involved politically. Although engineering unemployment dropped back from its peak in '71, by '75 it had swollen again to almost equal the record. In my experience I have observed that during slow-downs some displaced engineers take positions not fully utilizing their skills, moving back when things pick up, while others are lost from the pool forever. National Science Foundation data shows that 'engineer unemployment rate, lagged by one year, has closely paralled shifts in economic activity' (the GNP). (1) 'Engineering fields provide a clear example of repeated oscillation between "shortages" and "surpluses".'(2) This cyclic nature reflects on student enrollment and engi neering employment. According to MIT'S cobweb model, 'The current surge in enrollments is bound to lead to an oversupply of graduates despite continuing growth in demand.'(3) Total undergraduate engineering enrollment has continued upward from a: low of under 200,000 in '73 to 350,000 in '79.(4) If we were in truth in demand our pay would have at least kept up with inflation. As it is, our true purchasing power has dropped 13% over the past decade.(5) While hourly workers typically receive cost of living adjustments plus merit increases,
engineers typically receive only merit which averaged 9% in '80.(6) For engineers with over 10 years experience, a phenomenon called salary compression sets in. Average pay begins to level off and after 30 years experience actually declines. Also, stretchout (time between raises)(7) combined with lower median raises squeezes the experienced engineer. The pension reform hearings this past decade gave ample testimony to cases of layoff just short of vesting in a plan. Future trends
The witnesses call for more engineering graduates and to increase alien immigration. This keeps wages low for the experienced working engineer. It's cheaper to bring a low wage earner aboard who has no house to sell and minimum hiring and relocation expense. It costs $30,000 minimum to hire and relocate an experienced engineer but only about $10,000 for a new grad. Simple economics dictate a large, fresh supply, say the witnesses. During this present economic downturn, the electronics industry has not gone the standard layoff route. Experience from the '74-'75 recession when capital and A&O spending were cut led to lost market share to Japan, Shorter work weeks and long vacations with some layoffs have become the norm.(8) Our engineering population is aging. Median age moved from 37 to 40 between '60 and '74 but new graduates will slow this.(9) From a 'Harvard Business Review' article on engineer obsolescence : 'For the first time in our or any nation's history, there are large numbers of technically trained people over 40 years of age in our work force; no generation of managers has had to deal with this phenomenon before. Since our technical and economic progress is in large part dependent on the productivity of this ever increasing older group, it is imperative that we learn more about the relationships among the factors of aging, technological obsolescence, and performance. '(10) Looking at age per se, intellegence doesn't drop during a persons working life. (11) Performance ratings however are closely related to age as are salary increases. These peak in the 30's age bracket. Job assignments also are age dependent, with those over 40 receiving jobs in the lower part of the complexity scale.(12) Much of our human capital is acquired on the job rather than in formal education.(13) The problem of skills obsolescence when working in a rapidly changing technology over a long working life must be squarely addressed by employers of engineers. Courses alone are not an effective remedy.(14) It is more economic to update the skills of highly trained employees than to try and find that skill on the outside. Control Data Corp., recognizing the investment they have in their professional talent pool, will use their own computer-based education system for training and retraining as part of an expected no-layoff policy.(15)
Sweden has made employee mobility national policy. An autonomous agency anticipates the job opportunities of tomorrow and retrains workers displaced from mature industries.(16) Japanese employers make a lifetime job committment (17), seek active employee participation in operations and share any economic success. American management prides itself on officient use of materials and equipment yet it squanders its most valuable resource: human talent. Management style today, operating on short time horizons, directs job assignments to specialists whose narrow focus precipitates obsolescence when technologies or priorities shift. Human capital (a store of specific skills) is not • physical store of. capital goods but a human being, talented and able to adapt to changing conditions. Ironically the managers of engineers are typically degreed engineers. Except for capital committments, the problems of age bias and underutilization lies within the larger engineering community. Engineering management must recognize their engineering workers are a renewable resource whose effective utilization can continue to create the technologies driving this nation's productivity.
Wrap-up I started my working career as an apprentice plumber. After a year I went to college and earned my engineering degree. I make as much today as an engineer as I would working as a plumber. Yet there is no National Science Foundation monitor. ing supply and demand of plumbers, truck drivers, or other non-degreed workers making pay comperable to engineers. Why does the NSF spend $5MM per year on science resources studi es?( 18) We are a national resource. While Sec. of Labor, James 0. Hodgson spoke on the abrupt termination of government A&O funding in '70-171 and the lack of forethought on its effect on engineering employment. From this experience 'we did realize engineers constituted a tremendous national resource which the nation should not waste.'(19) Our effective utilization is one of the keys to improving productivity in this country. Because of our low pay our employers have us standing in line at the Xerox machine, collecting and sorting documents, and doing other jobs wasteful of our professional expertise. If we came dearer we would get the technicians, drafting and clerical support we need so our minds can focus on developing the machines to improve productivity of this great nation. We have the technology to once again move us all towards a better standard of living. Lets release it!
Verne Weidman,P.E., 130 E. Chestnut St., West Chester, PA 19380