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There are serious supply-demand imbalances in the availability of skilled people today, especially in the electronics and information industries and in sectors of the energy industry. In our industry, we see an insufficient availability of adequately trained people, especially in computer science, microelectronics, software engineering and manufacturing engineering involving highly complex materials processing.
We need doctorates and masters degree people as well as baccalaureates in production and in development. The shortage today limits the growth rate of an industry that is creating 50,000 jobs a year in this country.
It is very important to remember that it is not only the manufacturers of information systems that need these people. Our customers also need them. Our industry cannot grow unless our customers have the technical capability to use the productivity engines that our industry manufactures and services.
If the capacity of the engineering educational system were sufficiently elastic, supply and demand would in time produce the needed numbers of engineers. But, there are three supply constraints. First is faculty shortages, of which you have already heard, deriving both from a sharp decline in the number of U.S. citizen doctoral candidates in engineering, and and also from the decreased attractiveness of a faculty career in engineering.
The second supply constraint exists because our secondary schools are not doing the job. There are people in this country who don't have the incentive or the opportunity to study mathematics, physics, and chemistry in high school. Finally, we have a falling population of young people entering the college age group, so we are going to have to do better with less.
But, I think the engineering manpower problem is primarily not so much a matter of numbers but of the quality and appropriateness of skills. I would like to emphasize the fact that in this country we have allowed the factory to become an institution of low prestige rather than one of respect. This is not true in Japan, where engineers often prefer a career in manufacturing rather than industrial R. & D.
If we are going to beat our competitors in productivity, we need manufacturing engineers with production skills who know how to automate a plant and who know how to manage quality work. That calls for a broad range of skills quite apart from product innovation in the area in which we have done very, very well.
We need design skills for a broad range of middle sized companies that don't do much research. We hear talk about what industry can do for the universities-generally meaning large enterprises that have big R. & D. establishments. There are also hundreds of thousands of substantial companies in the United States that employ large numbers of people who do absolutely critical engineering but don't do research. We don't hear much from them and don't do much for them.
We must also plan for a growing demand for engineering talent because we have to look to our defense technology. The last time we made large investments in our strategic weapons technology, we did it in the wake of the shock of the Soviet Sputnik. We had a concurrent massive Federal investment in our educational institutions, increasing our science and research for a time at 10 to 15 percent annual real growth.
Today, we must find a way to provide for the needs of private industry while at the same time meeting the needs of our defense preparedness. Both are going to put demands on our engineers. Now, we are going to do it with decreased resources rather than increased ones. So, I think every American has his work cut out for him.
What can we do about it? Universities need a lot of help. There is no escaping the fact that they could do a better job, even with what they have. First, I will point out that in most engineering schools, attrition is a serious problem. The chances are only 4 out of 10 that a freshman enrolled in engineering will make it to a B.S. If we could motivate, train and help those students better, we could double the output of engineers with the existing establishment. We could do a better job of attracting women and minorities into the engineering schools.
In the critical shortage areas, universities must receive help from Government and industry. There are a surprisingly small number of universities in this country that can boast a fully staffed, research-experienced computer science and engineering program.
Youngsters today who are infatuated with computers are going to go to college assuming that the university will be ready to challenge them in the new information technology. I question whether either the fellowship support or the faculty skill and members will be there to meet the coming demand, since today's students interest in computers already outstrips capabilities of many faculties.
Universities must be able to offer competitive career prospects for the faculty and do it with new equipment that is relevant to the industrial experience students will have later. Access to research programs and competitive compensation are both important parts of the needed faculty environment.
What can industry do? We can do a lot. We can invest in training our own people, as we do today. This is a little known but very important contribution to engineering education in the United States. We can share our problems and talent with universities in joint research-a rapidly growing area. There is much experimentation with modes of collaborative research between industry and Government today.
We can make our special industrial capabilities available to universities. Companies can make special equipment available, as IBM recently did in donating a unique electron beam tool for microelectronics research to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Faculty loans and sabbaticals are a way to bring skilled people from industry with contemporary experience right onto the campus to teach.
Finally, there is fellowship and financial support. We hear good news. Exxon will provide 100 doctoral fellowships in 3 years and research grants to 100 departments for 5 years. Over the last 3 years, IBM has provided 278 fellowships in science, mathematics and engineering, and will make 180 $25,000 departmental research grants in the 5 years 1980 to 1984.
But there are limits to what it is realistic to expect from industry. In spite of some of the hopeful comments made by the panel, the dollars are not there in industry to replace Federal dollars. Total industrial educational philanthropy is only 2.4 percent of the operating costs of our major private universities. Double that figure and that still leaves 95 percent of the money to come from elsewhere. Secondly, too much dependency of the wrong kind on industrial support will destroy the proper focus of university research in the long-range, the high-risk, the work of unpredictable but potentially enormous value.
I think industry, if it is very careful, can mitigate that danger and can keep it away for quite awhile. But if you push too hard on forcing the universities to survive at the hand of industry, it is a real risk. Industry will sometimes be able to move very swiftly to get new university capabilities started, as has happened with six or seven major microelectronics facilities at different universities, often with State government support, as in California and in North Carolina. But industry is not going to be able to sustain the operating costs of those facilities indefinitely. Industry will get it started, carry it for a few years, and then assume that more dependable and committed sources of support will carry those programs on.
In conclusion, I think it is going to take a committed effort by Government, universities, and industry, sustained through good times and bad times, to achieve the levels of technical performance of which this Nation is capable and which our people deserve.
DR. LEWIS M. BRANSCOMB
Chairman, National Science Board, and
Vice President and Chief Scientist of IBM Corporation
Committee on Science and Technology
U. S. House of Representatives
October 6, 1981
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
I am Lewis M. Branscomb, Chairman of the National Science Board
and Vice President and Chief Scientist of the IBM Corporation.
It is my pleasure to appear before you this morning to discuss
the adequacy of engineering education for America's needs in the 1980s. These hearings are particularly important because engineering skills determine--to a major degree--the productivity level of the
U.S. manufacturing industry and the translation of scientific
discovery into commercial innovations.
The President's economic
policy can create the incentives in the private sector for an
aggressive commitment by American industry to the creation of new
jobs at home and economic competitiveness abroad.
But it will take
well trained and highly motivated engineers--available in sufficient
numbers--to translate this nation's potential for growth into reality. By now most Americans are familiar with the facts about the
U.S. competitive position in relation to other nations with whom
I know of no better summary of this situation than
Peter G. Peterson's study entitled "The U.S. Competitive position
in the 1980s
and Some Things We Might Do About It," published
this year by the Bank of America for the Center for International
Many of the discouraging trends he observes--our low
rate of capital accumulation, our declining portion of GNP invested in research and development, our aging stock of equipment--are
causes of a declining level of technological performance.
Other indicators, such as a falling U.S. share of patent filings, a declining productivity rate and declining share of world
trade are symptomatic of it.
Many of these problems are primarily
economic in origin; others may owe more to the superior efforts of
our competitors than to a decline in our own performance. Nevertheless, if we succeed in reversing the economic decline and
generate the capital and the business confidence to invest in
technology to improve productivity to bring down, inflation, we
will need an even more robust engineering capability than we have
had in the recent past.
Yet, we hear on all sides that u.s. engineering is in a state
What are the facts?
Let me summarize briefly what I
believe them to be, then expand on a few of them and close with
some suggestions on what universities, businesses and government
might do about it.