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Executive Summary

Introduction

The Committee on the Education and Utilization of the Engineer formed the Panel on Engineering Interactions With Society to examine broad questions regarding the functioning of the engineering profession in the context of, and in relation to, American society. Although harder to grasp and quantify than other aspects of engineering education and practice, these topics were considered important because of the enormous extent to which the interests of society and the engineering profession are intertwined. Our economic and social health depends directly on the health of the engineering endeavor, and the health of engineering depends, in turn, on the support of society.

The purpose of the panel's inquiry was thus twofold. First, it examined the impact that engineering and technology development has had on the development of the nation and, correspondingly, the impact of societal demands, values, and perceptions on engineering. The object here was to determine how the engineering community has responded to those societal interests and demands. Second, the panel attempted to assess the structure and development of the engineering profession, past and present, to ascertain whether or not the profession is likely to be adaptable enough to meet current and future national needs.

Background

Traditionally, the engineer has been held in considerable esteem in the United States. The concepts of the ''heroic engineer'' and the "wiz-



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Page 1 Executive Summary Introduction The Committee on the Education and Utilization of the Engineer formed the Panel on Engineering Interactions With Society to examine broad questions regarding the functioning of the engineering profession in the context of, and in relation to, American society. Although harder to grasp and quantify than other aspects of engineering education and practice, these topics were considered important because of the enormous extent to which the interests of society and the engineering profession are intertwined. Our economic and social health depends directly on the health of the engineering endeavor, and the health of engineering depends, in turn, on the support of society. The purpose of the panel's inquiry was thus twofold. First, it examined the impact that engineering and technology development has had on the development of the nation and, correspondingly, the impact of societal demands, values, and perceptions on engineering. The object here was to determine how the engineering community has responded to those societal interests and demands. Second, the panel attempted to assess the structure and development of the engineering profession, past and present, to ascertain whether or not the profession is likely to be adaptable enough to meet current and future national needs. Background Traditionally, the engineer has been held in considerable esteem in the United States. The concepts of the ''heroic engineer'' and the "wiz-

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Page 2 ard" inventor have been a prominent part of American folklore, interwoven with enthusiasm for exploration and development of the land and pride in American ingenuity. But in recent decades the American public has become less enamored of engineers and engineering. A duality of image has developed in which, on the one hand, the engineer is admired for his inventiveness, competence, and practicality; while on the other hand he is often viewed as a corporate "yes-man" of conservative views and little social conscience or consciousness. Mistrust of technology and dissatisfaction with its fruits have become significant new elements in American society. Engineers are seen as having lost their traditional aura of heroism and individuality, to have become anonymous team members, soldiers in the corporate army. This change in image has important implications for the practice of engineering. Perhaps the new image is exaggerated, but it is nonetheless true that exaggerated images can carry great weight in decision making today, particularly when those decisions are made partly on the basis of public attitudes and opinions. More generally, our trust or mistrust of governing institutions often seems to revolve around these matters. In a very real sense, our society's view of itself continues to be partly tied to its view—whether good or ill—of technology and of our national talent for pursuing it. For these reasons, the panel focused much of its attention on the historical development of the engineering profession, believing that some understanding of the evolution of American engineering in the societal context is essential for understanding its current structure and status. Historical Development Engineering began in America with the building of forts, arsenals, and roads. Engineering for military purposes predominated, but the growing population greatly needed transportation systems, buildings, agricultural implements, public works such as sewer and water supply systems, and machine-made products of all kinds. The first engineers in the United States were European; they brought with them to America their European training and European technology. It was not until after the founding of West Point in 1802 that American-born engineers began to appear. As demand for engineering skills was slow to develop, engineering schools were slow to emerge: For almost the first half of the nineteenth century, only West Point and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduated American engineers. Civil engineering was the first engineering discipline to attain professional status in the United States. By mid-century, mechanical engi-

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Page 3 neering had also emerged, as experimentation in machine-shop production of arms, tools, and other implements grew more sophisticated. The central accomplishment of American machine technology in this period was a standardized system for production of parts called the "American System" of manufacturing. This technique, combined with a penchant for innovation and simple, elegant design, began to provide the United States with technological autonomy and to build the foundations of an independent economic strength. As the population increased and development expanded across the continent, the demand for engineering goods and services continued to grow. To meet these and other educational needs, the federal government began in 1862 (under the auspices of the Morrill Act) to support higher education. This federally subsidized land-grant college system gave great impetus to engineering education, making possible a more scientific approach to technical problems. As a result, the profession began to diversify. Out of civil and mechanical engineering grew mining and metallurgical engineering. Mechanical engineering became more specialized, and by the beginning of the twentieth century a new emphasis on science in engineering had spawned first electrical, then chemical engineering. Industrial engineering (initially a branch of mechanical engineering) developed to systematize further the manufacturing process—especially in the burgeoning auto industry. Work roles also diversified: While military and independent consulting engineers had predominated earlier, corporations became the predominant force for technology development, and specialized assignments within a project team became the rule. Professional standing, for an engineer, was now very closely aligned with corporate standing. Wars were strong stimulants to engineering in the United States. Taking World Wars I and II together, government direction of research and development (R&D) for the war effort led to postwar booms in chemical, aeronautical (later aerospace), radio, electronics, nuclear, and computer engineering. Even the Great Depression spurred engineering, through massive government funding of such projects as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Rural Electrification Administration. Engineering had become the nucleus of the nation's phenomenal productivity and economic strength. Structural Characteristics The panel was able to make certain general observations about the internal and external forces that helped to shape the engineering profession in the United States throughout its early development. These

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Page 4 early, formative processes gave the profession much of its contemporary structure and set patterns for its societal role, status, and function. • Societal Demand for Goods and Services. On a large scale this "demand-pull" appears to have been the primary driver of technology development, and particularly of growth in established technologies. • Undeveloped Societal Demand. When demand for a product or a service is latent, entrepreneurs (or, in the present-day context, market analysts) may identify the potential demand and develop the technological means to fulfill it. • Technology Transfer. The availability of new technologies through transfer into a society or from one sector of society to another is another force that sparks demand. • Indigenous Advances in Technology. Autonomous technology development, whether through purposive effort or accidental discovery, can create demand if the new technology answers existing societal needs. This is the "supply-push" factor. • Infrastructure Development. Institutional components must be developed to support the engineering enterprise. These elements are: (a) educational institutions, (b) competitive corporations, (c) research facilities, and (d) technical communication networks. • Support by Key Individuals. It is most often individuals, not institutions, who bring about needed changes in traditional practices and entrenched points of view. • Government Support. Because of the scale of actions needed to foster broad change or development in the engineering profession, government support of and intervention in the technology development process is crucial. • Supportive Societal Environment. There must be a social climate that is conducive to technology development and engineering activity. Key contributory conditions are: (a) societal approval of technological advancement; (b) acceptance by the political and financial "establishment"; and (c) existence of a facilitating market structure. A key characteristic of the profession has been that it tends to follow quite closely the market for goods and services it provides. Both the individual practitioner and the engineering disciplines are highly responsive to perceived societal demand, although this responsiveness can create problems for engineering education as well as for the engineering employee. Thus, the profession's adaptability is a strong point in that it contributes to economic security, but it is a weak point in that professional engineers are dependent on forces that are largely out of their control.

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Page 5 A related point concerns the great diversification that the response to demand has created among engineering disciplines over time. The existence of numerous separate branches gives rise to a tendency toward narrow specialization in engineers and their institutions (especially in schools and professional societies). Diversity may thus have reduced the cohesiveness of the engineering profession, so that there is less of the sense of shared commitments and values that is found among other well-established professions. Features of the Present Era In the period since World War II, the most dominant feature of the environment in which engineering has functioned has been change—rapid, even revolutionary change in nearly every aspect of life and work. In this environment, the impact of all the forces noted earlier has intensified. The panel identified four factors of particular importance for the present-day engineering profession: (1) a great expansion of the roles of government; (2) a rapid increase in the amount of information present in daily life and work; (3) the accelerating rate of technology development; and (4) the internationalization of business and the marketplace. The large-scale support of national technological, social, and economic objectives by the federal government in the postwar period has led to a variety of new federal agencies. These in turn have led to a boom in the employment of engineers by government, both directly and indirectly, and to the emergence of new engineering disciplines in response to massive government funding of R&D programs. The scale of government-funded programs, particularly in defense, has caused public/defense needs to surpass the private/commercial market as the primary driver of development in engineering. The major new development in the "information explosion" has of course been the advent of the computer. As a new technology the computer may ultimately surpass the steam engine in its impact on the way business is done and, indeed, on the very nature of business. These machines generate a self-perpetuating demand for the technology they embody. As a result, in the past 15 years there has been a nearly exponential rise in demand for electronics engineers and software and computer engineers, placing considerable stress on the engineering educational system. The revolution in information products has been both a cause and an effect of the great postwar increase in the rate of technology development in general. The overall rate of technological change has come to exert considerable stress on the engineering system. At the same time,

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Page 6 the rise of powerful international competition in nearly every aspect of technology development and marketing increases the pressure. The rate of technology development, the quality of engineering education, and the role of the engineer in society are all far more critical under such competitive circumstances than they were when American dominance of virtually every technical field was secure. The impacts on the engineering profession are numerous and, in some cases, profound. For example, the trend toward greater specialization has left engineers more vulnerable to "technological obsolescence" in the marketplace. Nevertheless, there has certainly been strong evidence of the profession's adaptability in the face of technological change. The shift from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits in the electronic engineering field is one instance; the very rapid cross-disciplinary movement into the new aerospace field and, more recently, into composite structures provide two more examples. One reason for this flexibility seems to be that engineering is more interdisciplinary than in the past, so that engineers (while highly specialized) are also able to adopt a "systems approach" to their profession. The contemporary environment has also placed a great deal of stress on engineering education. The degree of technological change means that schools are unable to keep laboratory and teaching equipment up to date. Fluctuating industry demand brings shifting patterns of enrollment, with great overenrollments in some disciplines. The problem is exacerbated by chronic faculty shortages. Shifts in the economy and in student attitudes also affect enrollment. Schools in general are not well equipped to deal with these fluctuations. There are also impacts on employment. For example, a growing emphasis on the business aspects of engineering in the postwar period has led many engineers to acquire management training to enhance their professional status and abilities. More generally, the high rate of technological and economic change creates a sense of turbulence in some engineering-oriented industries. Whether there are shortages of engineers or not, this turbulence generates a sense of shortage, compounded by the fact that engineers in high-demand fields switch jobs frequently to obtain higher salaries. In addition, with more public attention to technological matters has come an increase in ethical concerns associated with engineering work, particularly in environment-related fields such as the chemical and automotive industries and in the whole area of nuclear energy (for both power generation and defense). With the expansion of government's role in engineering, significant differences are seen between engineering in government and in indus-

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Page 7 try. These are primarily due to the basic difference in objectives of the private and public sector organizations: profit making on the one hand, and the performance of public functions and services on the other. The number of government engineers who perform design and development work is relatively small; instead, the majority are primarily involved in the planning and management of contractor services. Most engineers in civil service are also necessarily more attuned to broad social needs and concerns relating to their work than are their counterparts in industry. Finally, there is also a prevailing perception that salaries—particularly in the lower and upper ranges—are lower in government than for comparable positions in industry, and that facilities and support also compare poorly. Because of this image problem, government today has difficulty attracting large numbers of highly qualified engineers. As was pointed out earlier, the postwar period has also seen a rapid increase in the awareness and public scrutiny of engineering activities by the general public. By the 1970s, changing attitudes had given rise to prevalent "antitechnology" attitudes, deriving perhaps from rising general levels of education as well as the greatly expanded capacity of technology for doing harm to individuals, the environment, and society itself. Engineers have tended to be wary of becoming involved in such politically and emotionally charged questions. However, while antitechnology pressures will ebb and flow, they have become an ever-present fact of life. Engineers and engineering will continue to be scrutinized on the one hand and, on the other, asked to perform miracles. Engineering and Society: The Dynamics of Interaction Based on its examination of past and present characteristics and tendencies of the engineering profession, the panel attempted to formulate a generalized, informal model of the dynamic interactions of engineering with the larger society. That formulation is briefly summarized here. Supply and Demand • The demand-pull factor is the principal driver of technology development and the production of engineers. • The supply-push of scientific advances is one of the primary stimulants to industry demand for engineers. • To date, there has been sufficient flexibility in the engineering

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Page 8 supply system to meet societal demand for technology-based goods and services. • The system has been able to respond to changing demand for three reasons: (1) the engineering educational system is flexible enough to adapt institutionally and pedagogically to new requirements; (2) students react quickly to economic signals in opting to study engineering and in choosing specific fields of engineering study; and (3) change has seldom occurred more rapidly than individual engineers could adapt. • Engineering institutions reflect the compartmental structure established in the nineteenth century. However, schools have adapted to demands for interdisciplinary engineering study; in addition, intra-and interdisciplinary movement of engineers has not been prevented. • Use of foreign engineers trained in the United States is another mechanism for meeting demand. • Because it takes at least four years to educate an engineer, there is necessarily an out-of-phase quality to the time frames in which demand and supply operate. • In a context of rapid technological advancement and numerous weaknesses in the educational system, it has become increasingly difficult for industry's changing expectations to be met within the confines of the present system. • Factors that may limit supply response in the future include. —a demographic decline in the population of 18-year-olds —variable academic ability of the student pool —a decline in math/science literacy among secondary-school students —a drop in the relative attractiveness of engineering jobs in an improving economy. Maintaining Adaptability • The focus of the delivery system for engineers is the engineering educational system, where stresses resulting from changes in the nature and intensity of demand are most acutely felt. • Engineering education is subjected to conflicting pressures for: (1) greater specialization; (2)broader, more general technical education; and (3) the inclusion of more extensive general education content such as liberal arts) in the engineering curriculum. • The avoidance of technological obsolescence requires that engineers obtain an education featuring a good balance of specialization and breadth of courses.

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Page 9 • Some educational options that afford greater flexibility are: —emphasis on basic studies in the first two to three years —five-year degree programs —cooperative education —continuing education at home, in school, or on the job. Managing Change In terms of its effect on society, automation in the form of computerized systems is the most significant technological change presently in the offing. The issue of technological unemployment may come to have even more negative effects than did the environmental issue. The outlook is for substantial displacement of workers in both the manufacturing and service sectors, but it is impossible to predict the amount of either. Automation will also create jobs at a substantial rate in both the manufacturing and service sectors, but not sufficiently to offset jobs lost. Computer-aided design and manufacturing systems will likely displace many engineers in the manufacturing sector. Nevertheless, with reduction of the work force in general, engineers are expected to represent a higher percentage of the manufacturing work force than they do now. Because changes in technology usually bring new industries and new demand, they generally alter employment rather than reduce it. If change is managed well by society, an overall improvement of the quality of life can be achieved. As in the case of environmental problems in the 1970s, the government may have to intervene (directly or indirectly) in labor displacement if the application of technology is to proceed smoothly. What is needed are carefully thought-out social and technological interventions. Outlook for the Future In the past, the engineering supply system has demonstrated sufficient flexibility to respond to changing demand. However, changes in the nature and scope of business, in technology, and in societal attitudes and values will affect the demand for engineers and engineering-related products. The elasticity of the supply system will be tested. In addition, unforeseen changes in the engineering environment may further stress the supply system. To acquire some understanding of how the system might function under possible future conditions, the panel proposed a set of hypothetical situations ("scenarios") that would

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Page 10 affect engineering to one extent or another. The six scenarios examined were: 1. Continued development toward unmanned factory operation, resulting in the United States regaining world leadership in "smokestack" industries (or, alternatively, losing its competitiveness in manufacturing altogether). 2. Attainment of a recognized capability for commercial utilization of space facilitated by reliable space transportation and permanent in-orbit space manufacturing and laboratory facilities. 3. A major new environmental crisis: large-scale contamination of groundwater resources. 4. Widespread adoption of automated teaching via computer. 5. Rapid shift to use of composite materials as a replacement for metals. 6. Sharp fluctuations in the federal budget for defense R&D. None of the scenarios examined by the panel appeared to exceed the capacity of the engineering supply system to respond and adapt. But it should be noted that the hypothetical scenarios were examined in isolation, as if each were the only unusual stress being felt at a given time. In reality it is likely that two or more such events would be taking place simultaneously, with combined effects that would be much more difficult to predict and, possibly, to withstand. Because of the uncertainty about what events—and how many—might occur that would affect engineering, it cannot be simply assumed that the engineering supply system is well equipped to meet any conceivable future. Each of the scenarios would create stress within the engineering community. Even today there are numerous problems of engineering manpower supply, particularly in the area of education. Many of these problems have their basis in societal attitudes toward engineering and technology, or in a lack of public understanding of the technology development process, or in a lack of awareness on the part of engineers of the social ramifications of their work. Close attention to these problem areas is needed if the interaction between engineering and the American society of which it is a part is to continue to function satisfactorily. Accordingly, the panel directs the reader to the conclusions and recommendations presented at the end of the report.