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Engineering Shortage Argument Digs Deeper Grave

September 8, 2011

There’s a new study that’s been done by the University of Birmingham on UK graduates titled: "Is there a shortage of scientists?" They looked at data from 1986 to 2009 and their figures on engineers will be surprising to anyone who’s drinking the "engineering shortage" kool-aid. A mere 46% of 2009 UK engineering grads were actually in a job related to their degree six months after graduating. 20% were working in other fields or roles separate from engineering, and a shocking 24% were working in jobs that didn’t require a degree and was non-related. I really doubt engineers would rather be working as waiters in today’s economy.

British Big Business decided to respond saying that they still have trouble finding people with the skills they need. I suspect this is because though we are encouraging "science" and "engineering" businesses really want specific things like software programmers. But when you admit you are just looking for code monkeys, and demand an engineering degree to go along with it, while you’re also hiring people on visas for less than the prevailing wage, that would probably piss people off. So it’s easier to say you are looking at STEM graduates, and whine about those who lack skills (surprise! college grads don’t always have a long employment history!).

Sort of reminds me of a story I heard on NPR this morning, where Tim Brown the CEO of IDEO is suggesting we "revive" apprenticeships. He stated it would allow employers to train employees to get the skills they needed and mentioned that government involvement could encourage this as a system. Frankly, I’m not sure what he wants from the government. If it’s really best for employers, then won’t the "free market" automatically encourage this kind of behavior? The interviewer brings up one big issue, that is a company bringing on a much younger and much cheaper employee and expecting an older one to train them and pass down all their knowledge. This would all be well and good if that older employee didn’t think he’d get canned the minute he taught the young buck 40% of what he needed to know.

Those that have done co-ops or many blue collar training programs will know that apprenticeships really aren’t dead. In fact your first job after college can often be like an apprenticeship if you make sure you are getting out of it what you need to. Though a cynical commenter on the NPR page points out companies are already using apprenticeships through visa programs to teach skills to foreign nationals so they can lay off more people here. I mean really; training employees used to be the accepted norm. CAD and solid modelling? Those were often skills your company taught to you along with everyone else in your department. Now they expect you to know it coming in, and you are lucky if they even let you train on your own dime and time in the evenings. Often they don’t appreciate that because it’s not prior "work experience". So Mr. Brown, if you want to start an apprenticeship program at your company? Go right ahead. I’m tired of business expecting tax breaks and government funded training programs as they continually offshore jobs and wipe out the middle class. I’m not sure what other "incentives" we could be using to stop this from happening.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. BLG permalink
    September 8, 2011 12:56 pm

    Frautech, I felt the same way when I heard that NPR piece this morning. I REALLY enjoy reading your posts on the lack of a lack of scientists, and this one was especially good.

    You’re so right about the whole “Let’s just encourage STEM!” thing, too . . . Companies want really specific skills right now, and you’re not going to get hired just because you’ve shown that you can learn new skills quickly – you REALLY need to have that SQL experience (or whatever). I wish people would just be more honest about this in college or grad school, and say “Take some STEM classes you enjoy, but if you want a JOB, you should really do this, too.”


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