U.S. EE jobs decline --- Should we still encourage kids to pursue STEM?

Jan. 17, 2014

A recent article in the IT journal Computerworld has fanned the flames of the ongoing debate about the advisability of pursuing careers in engineering. The CW article doesn't bring to light any new data, but it shines a spotlight on the fact that the number of people working as electrical engineers in U.S. declined by 10.4% last year. CW figures that's a loss of about 35,000 jobs. 

A reference to the CW article on the well-known techie forum Slashdot unleashed an avalanch of comments. The tone of most were along the lines of this one:

"Certain companies have convinced themselves that not only can they move manufacturing to China, they can also move product development engineering (including, shockingly to me, electrical engineering). A CEO of a company I worked for told a packed audience of software, electrical, and mechanical engineers (many of us in the industry for 20+ years) that China produces over a million 'qualified', 'well trained' engineers a year. He told us it'd be crazy for him not to move engineering overseas, since that's where the "talent" is. You could have heard a pin drop. That's how shocked we were."

Readers should note that the CEO's claim of China producing over a million 'well trained' engineers annually has been widely debunked -- that's a topic for another blog post. 

Nevertheless, it is fair to ask, as many Slashdot posters have, whether kids should be encouraged to pursue STEM careers in an environment where the number of engineering jobs is dropping, this despite a "resurgence" of U.S. manufacturing. 

That also goes for women engineers. On that point, I will pass along this anecdote from a long-time engineering manager I know:

Had an interesting talk with a woman who teaches at one of the top ten U.S. engineering schools. She says that when the tech crunch started, women were leaving IT classes there in droves. One class went, in subsequent years, from 55%, to 30, to 20, to 5 and then zero women. Women, realizing the discrimination they face and the long term viability of a career, will look elsewhere sooner than men. ....

About the Author

Lee Teschler | Editor

Leland was Editor-in-Chief of Machine Design. He has 34 years of Service and holds a B.S. Engineering from the University of Michigan, a B.S. Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan;, and a MBA from Cleveland State University. Prior to joining Penton, Lee worked as a Communications design engineer for the U.S. Government.

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