Dr. John Psarouthakis
There is tendency on the part of too many manufacturing professionals, as well as manufacturing scholars, to look at the enterprise as a simple combination of capital, management, and labor, while usually looking at labor as some commodity that can be bought and sold, easily obtained, and of little concern for our immediate or long-term future. Such an assumption is a grave error given the current and foreseeable human resources of U.S. manufacturing. There are several aspects to this general problem. One is the training and skills level of the existing workforce.
Conducting a survey of manufacturing employees as to what they need to do a better job the response invariably is: training of technical staff, operators, and supervisors.
The difficulties that American manufacturing companies are having in training for the new technologies is illustrative of a larger problem. There are some, not many, companies that consider their workforce as an investment which must be nurtured and trained and maintained. If formal training is offered at all, it is often too little in scope and coverage, applied to too small a segment of the workforce, and rarely has the mix of general principles and specific skills that good technical training involves.
We can learn much regarding training from both our foreign competitors and our exemplary domestic companies. In these organizations, training and a commitment to human resources upgrading is woven into the very fabric of the company. Rather than considering training as a bothersome commodity which is purchased from time to time from external vendors, permanent training/educational organizations have been *established which serve the workforce of these companies on a continuous and proactive basis.
In addition to being concerned about the training level of the general workforce, we also need to be concerned about the present and future status of manufacturing engineering and engineers. Historically, our nation has been the leader in producing technically astute, energetic, and practical engineers. In this century, they have gone forward and built much of the industrialized world as we know it. However, there are certain trends in engineering education in the U.S. which give one pause. One problem is that, a growing and worrisome percentage of graduating engineers, in all fields, are foreign-born, and more importantly, will take their skills back to other countries and further raise the ante of international competitiveness.
This is a problem. On the one hand, for reasons of morality and wise public policy, it would be ill advised to close our engineering schools to foreign students. Many of these individuals are among the most talented in the student population, and in turn, many of them elect to stay in the United States and contribute to our nation, both technically and personally.
I would strongly recommend that the engineering societies and the engineering schools of this nation mount a national, long-term public relations and advertising campaign to increase the attractiveness of engineering careers. We cannot assume that intelligent people will naturally gravitate to the engineering sciences; there is too much money and a seemingly more certain future in disciplines such as law, finance, and the service professions (until recently investment banking).
We should adjust the challenge/reward/performance systems into balance to accomplish the results required.