Machine Design

Shortage or Not?

I normally don’t comment on the editorials, but your Dec. 13 column (“Finally, the truth about engineering jobs) is 100% on target.

It’s nice to see that even some “academics” and foundations admit there is no engineering shortage. I’ve been an engineer for a long time, and “shortage” predictions and pronouncements have always been selfserving talk by industry and academia. And in fact, with increases in engineering productivity and our advanced tools (CAD/CAM, PLM, EDA), it may take fewer engineers to get the same amount of work done. It has been that way in almost every other segment of the economy. Maybe society only needs a certain number of good engineers these days to do what has to be done. Most so-called experts assume it is some percentage of the population or workforce, which is rigid thinking.

Bill Schweber

I read you editorial with interest, and what you say is not reflected in what we are going through at our company. Engineers are difficult for us to find. We pay competitive salaries and have good benefits, but we get applicants with no degrees or with training that isn’t relevant. Good engineers have jobs and keep them. Graduates, which we hire, take years to train. I’m currently working with Purdue University to set up a four-year Mechatronics degree program. It will include internships and have strong industry support. These graduates will be able to enter the job market and contribute almost immediately. We need to increase the supply of engineers to fill the needs of industry.

Nick Wilson

Engineer or not?

After reading the recent letters regarding PE requirements, mechanical engineers who can’t engineer their way out of their own cubicles, and the need for engineering apprenticeships (Dec. 13 issue), I was surprised at just how ignorant I am of my own qualifications. After 31 years of devoted study, developing products, fabricating and testing them, and even receiving patents for my apparently shoddy work, I suddenly find I’m not really an engineer. It’s true, I often get involved in marketing and even selling products I develop, but surely your readers don’t believe that prevents me from being an engineer.

Seriously, my point is that there are plenty of mechanical engineers who have been doing fine work ever since earning their degrees. I’m the first to admit that it’s not the 4.0 grads who necessarily make the best engineers, and that getting a little grease under your fingernails goes farther toward making a better engineer than just book learning. But the suggestion that mechanical engineers shouldn’t be called engineers until they pass a PE exam is a little over the top. Truth be known, some of the largest and best-known companies that earn prof its with engineered products actively discourage their engineers from becoming PEs. Their logic is that once employees are PEs, they are free to take the company secrets learned on the job, hang out their own shingles, and go into competition with their former employer. That’s why I never took the PE exam and at 57 I can’t see any reason to take it now. Those who believe we should all be PEs have it wrong. The truth is: If it looks like an engineer and quacks like an engineer, it’s an engineer.

Richard Fortino

You’re right about engineering qualifications. One of the best engineers I’ve ever known didn’t have a four-year degree. He got his training as a Navy technician. And I think the same can be said for other professions as well. It now looks as though not everybody who got degrees in finance were able to figure out that extending mortgages to people who don’t have jobs was not what you might call exemplary risk management. — Leland Teschler

I have worked in heavy industry my entire adult life in a variety of roles and currently run a general contracting firm with my son. We work closely with engineers and designers in a variety of areas. The single recurring situation for me is that I have to interpret and frequently troubleshoot drawings and designs that are inaccurate, inept, difficult and expensive to construct, and difficult and expensive to maintain. This is not a new complaint or is it likely to go away given the way in which we, as a society, choose our engineering professionals. The primary criteria for becoming an engineer seems to be that they must graduate from an accredited institution with a four-year engineering degree. There are no further requirements unless they want to have “PE” after their name.

The college course work is necessary, but without any realworld experience or mentoring, the results are what I mentioned above; poorly executed designs. This is why engineers’ wages and status have not risen above the masses and why they are not (apparently) suited for real work, but just academic work. It doesn’t matter if there’s a sheepskin on the wall if your designs are unreadable, impossible to make, or just plain bad. Auto companies are full of engineers. Yet in a country with more cars and trucks and miles driven than any other nation, U.S.-designed vehicles are poorly thought of compared to Japanese and German ones. Why? We all have different answers but it still comes down to quality and reliability.

The engineering community needs to develop educational standards and require a couple of years in a millwrighting, pipefitting, or some other “hands-on” trade before they call themselves an engineer. If we as a nation want to continue to be a force in the world and do great things, we must be realistic and demanding of our educational system and the regulating bodies that set and uphold those standards.

Lee Fraser

Name that gadget

Be the first to identify this vehicle from a past issue of Machine Design and win a fabulous prize, along with the honor of seeing your name in an upcoming issue. E-mail entries to [email protected] and put “Gadget” in the subject line.

Several readers knew the last gadget was for an automatic plow. It was called Agri-Roobot and was built in 1965 by Protec n.v, a firm in the Netherlands. The first reader with the correct answer was Tom Theobald.

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