90% of the world's engineers Asian residents by 2010
Control Engineering January 4, 2006
James W. Bagley, chairman of Lam Research Corp. recently addressed
the U.S.' diminishing capability to maintain competitive
manufacturing leadership and parity.
In a speech to San Jose State University's College of Engineering,
James W. Bagley, chairman of Lam Research Corp. addressed the U.S.'
diminishing capability to maintain competitive manufacturing
leadership and parity. The following summarizes his presentation.
He indicated that, when mobilized, the U.S. can accomplish near
miracles. The solution is simple: convincing political leaders that
the results of the U.S.' degenerating, competitiveness problem can
be far greater than the national disasterssuch as have been
recently experienced. And it's probably a greater threat to the
country than some of the ideologies that the U.S. is currently
He focused on China, which now is becoming competitive in
manufacturing technology, software and engineering capability across
the spectrum, physics, chemistry, and biotechnology. Whether through
design or luck, China has co-opted the largest retail organization
WalMartinto being its worldwide distribution system. The result of
this distribution capability has been a disruptive transformation in
balances of trade virtually across the globe and has allowed China
to become a country with substantial foreign currency reserves. As
anyone in business knows, market access is an imperative and is
usually achieved through substantial investment and hard work. China
got their warehousing, distribution, and retail outlets at no cost.
During these 20 years, what was happening in the U.S.? It has
promoted fair trade, open-market access, lower duties, and so on.
U.S. motivations were positively based, expecting open trade
improvements to the economies of most of the third-world countries,
allowing them to be markets for U.S. life-enriching products based
on U.S.-developed intellectual property and value-added services
which would in turn improve the standard of living of U.S. citizens.
The result has been somewhat different from what was envisioned 20
The U.S. is outsourcing manufacturing at an alarming rate. China is
creating manufacturing jobs at a rate equivalent to the entire U.S.
manufacturing workforce each year. The U.S. is facilitating that
growth rate by outsourcing its manufacturing jobs to China in order
to compete with Chinese goods derived from U.S.-created intellectual
Examples from Lam Research and the semiconductor industry:
Approximately 80% of (Lam Research's) advanced etcher systems are
sold and installed in Asia.
Three companies in Taiwan are building more leading-edge 300mm
plants than are being built in the United States. The vast majority
of the leading-edge 300mm facilities being built in the world are
being built in Asia.
(The U.S. has) gone from the largest market for semiconductors and
the largest producer of semiconductors to a deteriorating second
place when compared to Asia.
Some recent eye-opening information from Jay Pinson, dean emeritus
of San Jose State was:
Today the U.S. graduates about 55,000 engineers a yearwith the rate
declining for the last 20 years;
Both law and business students graduate at about three times this
rate (about 330,000 in the aggregate);
India graduates 300,000 engineers annually;
China mints 350,000 new engineers each year; and
Aggravating the situation is the fact that, of the U.S.' 55,000
graduates, a meaningful percentage are foreign nationals who may or
may not stay in the United States.
The U.S. cannot compete with India and China on a raw-numbers basis,
nor should itlook at a combined 650,000 engineering graduates as
opposed to its 55,000because India and China are competitors. What
the U.S. should focus on is dramatically increasing the number of
its engineering and science graduates in those areas where it can
develop and maintain a competitive advantage.
Projected over time, the engineering graduate gap, by 2010, will
result in over 90% of the world's engineers living in India, China,
and the rest of Asia. This is underscored by the large number of
U.S. engineering graduates now retiring, who were motivated to
engineering careers due to the space race that began with the 1958
launching of Sputnik.
How is the U.S. coping with the problem today? It's importing
roughly 60,000 engineers/scientists with the H-1B visa program. In
the most positive light, this is a stopgap. Analogously, over 30
years ago Detroit had been making larger, heavier cars with larger
engines and degrading fuel economy, and the rest of the world,
particularly Japan, was making small, fuel-efficient cars. In
the `70s there were two major oil-supply disruptions. When the Big
Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) automakers began
cooperating with non-U.S. manufacturers to import fuel-efficient
cars after the Big Three's efforts had largely failed, a point of
view then was that this was not necessarily a bad thing, but that
this was a stop-gap until Detroit could develop competitive
Three decades later. Maybe General Motors (GM) gasoline-powered
cars' fuel efficiency is comparable to that of the Japanese, but 30
years of public perception of Detroit's gas guzzlers makes it
difficult for GM to compete. The H-1B visa program could cause the
U.S. to end up in much the same way if a robust program for growing
engineering enrollment/graduates isn't developed. H-1B can't be
discontinued in the near term because the U.S. is addicted.
So what is the solution? Conceptually, it's like losing weightthe
program is simple, the execution is difficult. An approach is:
Begin changing the public perception about engineering careers
versus doctors and lawyers;
Establish a national priority to increase the number of college
graduates in engineering and science; and
Address the well-documented problems in the K-12 educational system
Over the past decade or so, there have been more than a dozen
television programs depicting lawyers as the defenders and saviors
of the American public.
In a similar timeframe, there have been another dozen or so programs
profiling the exploits of selfless, caring, and incredibly competent
members of the medical profession sacrificing family and friends
working long hours, once again to save the human race.
In the last decade or so, there have been only a few programs that
have highlighted technologists. Each of them has been depicted as
brilliant, completely socially inept, narrowly focused super-geeks.
In movies, technologists generally have been depicted as brilliant,
cruel, and despicable people bent on world dominationand then there
was television's McGuyver.
Before you disgustedly sigh about the examples' triviality, think of
When a high profile athlete lends his persona to a shoe brand, the
impact on young peoples' purchases is dramatic;
What is depicted in movies and television, we all know, has a huge
impact on young peoples' perceptions, thoughts, and actions; and
So why wouldn't depictions of lawyers and doctors as heroes and
scientists and technologists as nerds and villains make a
significant impression on young people?
It's impractical to compete with television and movies, but the
accomplishments and contributions of science and technology should
be shown in a positive way as well as the thousands and thousands of
technologists whose careers are exciting, fulfilling, and rewarding
as they contribute to developing the science and products that are
helping to improve the human condition.
An influential constituency needs to be convinced to support a
national priority to encourage the growth of the engineering and
science enrollment in universities and colleges as was done with the
space program (of the `60s).
It will require prioritizing funds, including:
Low-cost student loans for students entering engineering and science
Expanding scholarships earmarked for engineering and science
Increasing the availability of grants to colleges and universities
to enhance the facilities that support engineering and science
Boosting funding for graduate fellowships; and
Providing loan forgiveness for those science and engineering
graduates who commit to teach in their field at universities and
colleges for some reasonable time period.
Finallythis may be the most difficult step of all, fix K-12. In a
recent article, and Bagley, "couldn't vouch for its validity but it
sounded right, teachers who dislike the subjects teach most students
in K-12 science and math." The teachers are ill prepared to teach
the subjects and in many cases have a minimal grasp of the subject
content itself. While he didn't experience this during K-12, it was
hard for him to believe that a teacher disliking the subject matter
can make a compelling example for students to gain proficiency and
excel in the subjects. Ill-prepared students leaving high school
have virtually no chance of succeeding in collegiate-level
engineering or science programs.
In Texas, although the law is being revisited, students in the top
10% of their high school graduating class must be admitted to
colleges and universities in Texas irrespective of their ability or
preparation to succeed. A well-intentioned program can adversely
affect the success of students in technical curricula.
Bagley closed by saying, "The U.S. must find a way to establish
competent instruction in K-12 supporting math and science
preparedness. It is a political issue, if the comfort zone of some
people must be disrupted to save our children and the future of our
country then the decision is obvious."
For more information see:
Engineers, scientists, skilled production workers missing in action
Refinery Expertise Preservation
Richard Phelps, senior editor, Control Engineering
© 2006, Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
All Rights Reserved.