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Author: PaulEngr Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 1625  
Subject: Re: Free Education for science and engineering Date: 7/23/2005 12:03 PM
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We need to have the government pay for college education for Science and Engineering.

Absolutely not. They failed to graduate students from primary schools who have the basics (reading, writing, and arithmetic). It has gotten to the point where you have to issue written tests for things like basic math skills because the damned diploma is now worth less than 3 sheets of toilet paper. Why in the world would you want to subject everyone to the same crap? As has already been mentioned, if there's motivation, the money is there. My parents were highly paid midwest farmers who had to fill out lots of paperwork trying to prove that their business was an ongoing concern just for me to be able to try to qualify for grants, loans, etc. I was not at the top of my class in engineering or primary school either.

Don't engineering students studying for advanced degrees also qualify for fellowships from research grants?

Pretty much where I went to school across the board unless you were going for essentially coursework degrees such as the usual suspects (MBA), then they almost wouldn't issue coursework degrees. In other words, fellowships & grants were REQUIRED. I had to do work for 3 different companies to pay my way (and work part time at one point), but I was masochistic enough to land 3 engineering degrees. This was 1997, so obviously things haven't changed in the last 25+ years.

We are in a situation where we have a distinct dearth of American kids electing to take engineering courses at all.

Yes, that's the way of things. At one time, pretty much to land jobs in the area you are talking about, you had to be a physicist. For example, there was no such thing as RF or electromagnetic (antennas, radio, microwave ovens) engineers. Then it branched out and became an engineering function. At this point, they have canned software that crunches out the equations (as a CAD program) so you're down to needing a specialized draftsman. No need for that 4 year electrical engineer anymore.

At the same time, the tech schools have gotten better and better. In fact, engineering schools are lagging behind quite a bit because they are into teaching theory that is quite often 10-20 years behind the times. For instance, when I went to school in 1989-1997, they were still teaching about ADC's and DAC's (the component that converts digital signals into analog and back) using the basic concepts of a "flash converter". The fact is that at that time the whole world switched over to delta-sigma (one-bit) conversion and never looked back for the most part. They still are not teaching delta-sigma theory today, so students are graduating without a clue about a key technology that drives something as simple as a CD player. On the other hand, this IS being taught in the tech schools.

Another example: "software engineering". Face it: the barriers to entry are very small and it is not geographically limited. In other words, if I have a laptop, I can write software just as easily in Siberia as I can in silicon valley. The low barrier to entry and high mobility means that anyone anywhere anyplace can do it and your job market is thereby inflated to encompass the entire world.

In a technician role, I'd be doing roughly the same things I do most of the time, paid just a little less for it (with less time in school up front), with better job security, better mobility, and less responsibility. I used to scoff at the idea but now in my role "behind the curtain" like in the Wizard of Oz, my perspective is that those tech school jobs look really, really tempting.


As to the job market...ha! What a joke. I would most likely be branded as a "plant engineer" or "industrial engineer". I can turn wrenches, run conduit and wiring, and be equally at home with either one as well as design and project management. The summer of 2001 qualified as my worst year ever. I was out of work for a huge stretch of 8 weeks. However, in 10 years I've worked for 5 different companies. The labor market is cyclical. Nobody anywhere is safe anymore and nobody has "job security". Hell, one of my primary job goals right now is to eliminate 4-6 positions every year!

The safest positions are production and maintenance. That's a known fact and has been published widely. It's not that there's any more or less engineers out there. It's that there are more qualified people doing traditional engineering functions (technician level) and that companies are restructuring faster from a strategic objective point of view.

So...you have to be willing to go where the jobs are. 4 years ago, I was plant engineer for a basic chemical company. Then it was industrial silica. Today it's a foundry making pipe. Tomorrow...who knows. Other than the hassle of moving though, I can confidently say that I am far more employable and far more experienced and talented than if I had stayed where I started.

The fact is that I have very good job security now. My salary continues to escalate at more traditional increase levels (far more than 3-5% a year that you get these days). I have created job security for myself. I am confident that should I have to go looking again, I'll once again land something within a month or two at the outside, with yet another decent pay increase, although I probably won't top the last one (25% pay increase; the result of working for a company known for low salaries and no increases for 2 years straight). I have so much job security in terms of simply not worrying about whether I will still have a job with my current employer that it gives me the ability to take greater risks (and rewards) that would otherwise not be possible.

Any country that doesnt recognize that engineering and science are the foundation of civilization is doomed to be what we are fast becoming, a declining has been.

Not quite true. Step back a minute and take a more world view of the whole situation. For this country to remain competitive and not fall into the economic doldrums that plague Europe, you need a certain number of things. The biggest thing you need is to be able to create wealth, which means that you create value for other people. Our GDP growth is usually 5-15% compared with 1-3% in Europe and elsewhere. Obviously we are very, very good at doing that. Impediments to wealth creation are what you have to watch out for. Since there is nothing competitive about anything government run, this creates inferior "product" and reduces the value. In the end, we as a nation (which will be taxed more in order to pull your scheme off) will have poorer engineering and science talent but pay more to get it.

There are just as many issues at every level within companies in this country. Managers are coping with problems of motivation, leadership, and efficient utilization of resources. Accountants are dealing with the fact that activity based accounting is superior to the older accrual-based methods for internal valuation. Engineers and scientists are hell bent on either making it cheaper or making it better in SUPPORT of management's goals of improving profitability. Engineering is a support function, not an end unto itself. Make no mistake about it. That's why engineers so typically fail so badly when they are put in business decision making positions.

Well of course I agree that engineers are way undercompensated. THIS IS BECAUSE ENGINEERS DO NOT RUN ENGINEERING WORK - MBA'S DO.
And they have no business doing so.


Yes. That's the way it should be. My engineering role is to provide solutions based on similar problems and issues that have occurred elsewhere. I should not as an engineer have the role of making decisions directly since it is a supporting role. In reality, I do make decisions every day. I'm in charge of the engineering department and the electrical maintenance group.

When it comes to business decisions, that is a supporting role. For instance, the plant manager recently asked me to investigate the COST of installing what is essentially a railroad car for moving refractory vessels around a part of the plant. The reason for doing this is to improve safety, productivity, and housekeeping in that part of the plant as opposed to jockeying a fork truck around there the way it is done now. I will provide a solution how to do it and a rough cost estimate (which gets refined down the road if we actually decide to do it). This has to be evaluated vs. the cost of how we do it now (and all the other "soft" reasons I mentioned). The plant manager's role is to decide whether to spend money on this project (even if it makes sense) or a myriad of other projects which may have a greater value to the company than this one. My responsibility ends with the "how".

If you want to make the decisions, then take a management role. Simple as that. That is what MANAGERS are paid for...managing. There is such a thing as an engineering manager, by the way. That's part of what I do now. I make decisions for my departments every day but I also have another role where I provide information and make recommendations, but I don't make the decisions (which you would call engineering).

Managers (with or without an MBA) are paid to make decisions. Part of what they are supposed to do is gather facts and information in support of making those decisions. Their ability to make the best decisions is tied to their salaries and promotions. As an engineer, if you are accepting a supporting role, the best thing you can do is to learn how to be a political animal...learn how to best convince others to agree with your recommendations, or else jump ship and go into management.

Engineering is known to be cyclical. It does go through boom and bust cycles. I'm sure the cycles are different for various disciplines and even segments of industries.

I agree strongly there. In the short term, especially in commodity businesses (where I've spent a lot of my working career), profits have little to do with the internal structure of the companies. Fixed and variable costs are relatively constant. So the only factors that really make a difference are customer demand and raw materials costs (fuel and electricity included). The only place where a commodity business has flexibility is in the few non-essential costs that they have in support functions such as accounting, marketting, and of course R&D and engineering. So engineers are inherently affected by the cyclical nature of the business simply because they are non-essential functions. The place I work at has hired 2-4 engineers or engineers into non-engineering functions in every plant in the last year because they're on an upswing right now. I have no doubts about the stability of my job long term unless I can turn the costs of this place around substantially and move into a more non-engineering role. Last month we made $3MM. Last year, we made $3MM. So at least the numbers are headed in the right direction.
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