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12/02/05 03:14 AM
Does Engineering Matter and is Free Trade Really Free? Report this article as Inappropriate to us !!!Login to Reply

Does Engineering Matter and is Free Trade Really Free?

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Tom Joad, Engineer
12/09/05 05:30 PM
Preach it! new Report this article as Inappropriate to us !!!Login to Reply

I'm not sure what people in the manufacturing belt of the US are doing for work anymore. Wall-Mart is becoming the big employer in many of these areas. So people sell each other cheap crap that they don't need - that seems like a recipe for decline. I recently wathced a PBS American Experience documentary on Las Vegas. It seems that in the 50's, 60's, 70's and '80's people want to Vegas to escape. Now they're moving to Vegas to make a living. Turns out it's one of the only places where people without a college degree can make a living anymore. Used to be that a lot of those folks got manufacturing jobs. Vegas is now the fastest growing city in the US - something's screwy. In recent years it's the engineering jobs heading overseas. And all we hear is that engineers will move 'higher up the food chain' apparently into marketing-type jobs. But as Mr. Schoonmaker says, some of us like to design things. We like being engineers and we really don't care to become marketeers. So soon we won't make anything in the US and we won't even design much in the US. What will we do? We'll be lawyers, marketeers and burger flippers. Something's screwy. The threat of a global flu pandemic is revealing a flaw with this global "countries should do what they can do cheapest" economy: Guess what? We don't make a lot of basic medical supplies in the US anymore. Things like high-grade masks that would help filter out viruses, hypodermic needles, even a lot of different types of medicines - they're not made here anymore. We're dependent on overseas sources for many of these things and in many cases we're dependent on exactly the countries that will likely be hit first by a flu pandemic - countries in Asia. What happens if manufacturing is shut down in many of these countries for a month or two or three because they've been hit hard by flu? "Mr. Smith, you need an injection of this life saving drug, but.... I'm afraid we have no needles available; flu pandemic is hitting Asia pretty hard right now... We're trying our best to disinfect used needles. Bleach seems to work pretty well, but of course it's running low. Oh, and that lifesaving drug... well it's manufactured in Asia and we're running a bit short..." Something's screwy.

01/14/06 10:48 AM
One possible answer new Report this article as Inappropriate to us !!!Login to Reply

This is a very complex topic and I applaud Mr. Schoonmaker's initiative to take a stab at it. If you have five people in the room discussing outsourcing and free trade you'll get ten different opinions, but the discussion needs to take place. Being a hard core engineer, I too get frustrated with the tendencies of divestiture by american industry and society in added-value engineering. Thinking about the demands of the restructuring committes for Delphi, GM, and the airline companies, where workers are asked to take a 65% pay cut are just unbelievable. So what can we do about it? I feel that we as engineers need to become more enterpreneural. We need to take more initiative and bring added-value engineering to the market place ourselves. Working on the required 10% cost reduction for a bolt on the next GM car's transmission maybe what you get to work on for the american industrial complex, but that is not added-value engineering that will save our engineering profession. We need to move up into the decision making process of industrial products, and the only way I see we can do this while the industrie is divesting in us, is to take the initiative out of the hands of the MBAs. If you have a skill in designing transmissions, cast that skill in added-value products for high value industries such as speed shops, or after market hot-rods: but you have to do that as an enterpreneur, not as a pure design engineer. To recap, I think the answer to outsourcing is for us engineers to move up in the decision making process. If you follow orders from a bottomline driven management team, you are replacable and will be outsourced, because you are not adding sufficient value to compete with low-cost engineers in developing countries, which by the way tend to have a better education then the typical american engineer. If you 'see' what needs to get done, then go do it. Those engineers that don't will get outsourced.

03/08/06 07:16 PM
Rings True new Report this article as Inappropriate to us !!!Login to Reply

If it's any consolation for American readers, you might say, it's better if you had something and lost it, than if you have never had it at all. At least in the US, there was a strong industry built on innovation and just by inertia, some of it still persists despite efforts to destroy it. In my home, in Australia, by comparison, the high-tech industries never managed to achieve much more than a toe-hold. Some patchy effort was made during the nineteen-eighties with various government grants and R&D tax concessions to stoke up the fire. Something did start up then but was promptly clobbered on the head by the following government. Now, we survive on mining, agriculture, tourism, selling imported goods to ourselves and our primary source of income, the ever growing foreign debt. Any other industry, high-tech or otherwise that still exists is gradually shrinking. The best bet for bright young engineers used to be to leave for the US to achieve intellectual and financial satisfaction. There is a reason why I said "used to be". At least, IT is doing well, right? Well not if you want to design or manufacture something. The big break for young IT graduates now is if they get a low-paying job at the tech support call center of an internet service provider. Even that is becoming scarce, because almost all of these centers have been, you guessed it, outsourced to developing countries. It's easy enough to pick out an example, a "company success story", to prove that it's all roses, roses, but usually it is a "despite" and not a "because" story. After all, if you look at WW II, there were people who became wealthier and some copanies did well during the terrible years of the war. Now, does that make it prosperous times??! As pointed out in one of the responses, we would all tell this story differently, but so much of Stephen Schoonmaker's article rings true, even for people in some other countries. I was a bit suspicious to start with, as I have seen similar articles deteriorate into a pointless rant, but I was relieved to find that it wasn't one-dimensional and it threw up some real important issues. Unfortunately, in a short article, you can only graze the surface of a complex and far-reaching topic. As for me, I don't see anything wrong with free trade or outsourcing if, and that's a big if, done sensibly and fairly to all involved. Clearly, that's generally not the case at the moment. Protectionism is not an answer either, but I won't try to claim that I have the ultimate answer and explain it in 25 lines here...

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