Has Manufacturing and Engineering Lost Value?

Tom Peters posted an inspiring post on the value of the well-engineered hammer. He could not resist buying the one in this photograph. Reading Tom's comment section, I noted that a person called "ZED" wrote that that being a scientist or engineer has lost its value in North America.

I agreed and noted that "my two teenagers (who are heading towards engineering) tell me that the general comment by his peers are that those are Asian jobs and are being offshored to Asia. One of my teens is the only one in advanced math who is not Asian, but he tells me it's because of parenting. The hammer reminded me of Clint Eastwood's new movie, Gran Torino, where Clint's character teaches a second generation immigrant the American value of getting out the hammer and fixing up your home, your neighbour's home and getting a job. Just as Tom Peters discusses, it all comes back to that hammer. It's not fancy but it's work - decent hard work. It also makes me wonder when I read Daniel Pink who tells people that the engineers at his university were not loving their school work. Pink says to do what you love and if it's not making you happy all the time, don't do it. I really question that. Seems self indulgent."
Posted by Jacoline Loewen at January 5, 2009 9:54 AM

Tom Peters (my hero) responded:
I don't want to get in the middle of this, but beware apples and oranges. The Chinese are turning out engineers by the bushel. Or are they? A McKinsey Institute study last year claimed that some-many-most Chinese graduate engineers would not be accepted for engineering jobs in the U.S., EU, Japan, Korea, etc. At this point at least, many of the so-called engineering grads are holding what we might call a technician's certificate. Part of this is attributed to state control of curricula. Again, not my area of expertise.
Apples and oranges II.
Swedes, I just read, are horrified at the recent precipitous drop in math-science test scores. Most of it may come from a rapidly increasing immigrant population not as well prepared for school as the natives. For a long time, probably today, much of the U.S. SAT gap could be explained by the fact that everybody of age in the U.S. is encouraged to take the test--it's restricted to the educational elite in many countries.
Posted by tom peters at January 5, 2009 12:39 PM


Michael said...

Engineering is a value add proposition – you create something or develop a process to create something.

When our society was about sustainability, built to last, manufacture in-house, there was a need for an engineering workforce that added that value. The emphasis on this group was high, the need for this group was strong and thus there was a perceived value. I say perceived value because I believe all disciplines in an organization add value – the attention they receive varies with markets, companies and trends.

In today’s environment we seem to be short term, disposable, next model driven. There aren’t as many new processes required, many of today’s staples have been engineered years / decades ago. In addition, in outsourcing product you inevitably outsource talent, if a third party is manufacturing your products your requirement for a supplier manager outweighs your need for a manufacturing or process engineer. With this shift comes a shift in perceived value from the engineering group to the procurement or supplier management department. This eroded the perceived value of engineers. Where engineering has lost some shine is where companies spec a role to have an engineering background where one is not required – engineers do non-engineering work.

I hold two engineering degrees, a marketing cert, a business cert and a risk manager accreditation. I can not be any more honest when I say that I use my marketing / business skills each and every day, mostly to communicate, interact or describe the project I am working on BUT, everything I communicate, interact with or describe, every project I work on, benefits from my understanding of and foundation in engineering. I don’t believe that I could do the same job without that background.

At the end of the day the “system” relies on creating something – there in lies the value and as long as engineers continue to create they will continue to add value and be valued. The challenge is to utilize the degree and the engineering disciple in adding value and not assuming (as an engineer) that the value add is a default of the ring they wear.


Anonymous said...

What Michael says is so true. It is engineers like him who have built the wonderful society we are enjoying nowadays, and I find it comforting to know that these kind of engineers are still among us.