May 13, 2008

The U.S. Engineering Gap

A recent article from Tech Careers ( discusses the declining number of US engineering degrees being awarded.

“"The problems have taken root and they will be difficult to deal with," said Richard Heckel, founder and technical director of Engineering Trends, a consulting firm specializing in engineering education.”

”Small but steady declines in bachelor's degrees have occurred in the past three academic years. In 2004-05, some 76,632 engineering bachelor's degrees were awarded. In 2005-06, the number dropped slightly to 76,301. In 2006-07, it again decreased to 75,113.”

”Increases in undergraduate enrollment occurred in freshmen classes in fall 2006, but second-, third- and fourth-year enrollments declined. That means the pattern of slowly declining degree numbers should continue for another three or four years, Heckel said.”

“A reduced rate of doctoral degrees should begin next year and continue for at least three years, Heckel added.”

Certainly, a reduced rate of engineering graduates is not a good sign for companies competing to attract and keep talent, although in the short run, the government could reverse this scenario through immigration policy.

Of note, is the fact that the decline in the number of students begins in the 2nd year of university, and continues thereafter. Isn’t it “normal” for there to be attrition for any degree granting program?

Is the modern engineering discipline no longer connecting with that particular subset of Gen Y that has a proclivity for the engineering discipline?

One wonders if this theme is likely to be repeated in other disciplines…

“Meanwhile, fewer available qualified engineers means more responsibility for the less-experienced, said Albert Helfrick, chair of electrical and systems engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach, Fla.)”

”The population of experienced engineers is aging, he said. "There's a serious problem in our country with people like me: gray-haired people who could retire tomorrow," Helfrick said. If large numbers do retire, the U.S. faces a severe engineering shortfall.”

Perhaps we are beginning to see the tip of the scarce-talent iceberg…

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