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6
Conclusions and Recommendations

The following conclusions drawn from the deliberations of the panel are paired with recommendations for action (if any) needed to address that problem or circumstance.

Conclusion

In the past, the engineering supply system has responded well to changing societal demand. The engineering institutions have proven to be remarkably adaptable in practice, and individual engineers have generally been flexible in responding to change—although spot shortages and a certain amount of individual hardship have not been entirely avoided. Despite numerous stresses, the system continues to function reasonably well today.

Recommendation

Because the system is working reasonably well in meeting demand at the present time, no precipitous actions should be taken that would alter its basic functioning under present conditions.

Conclusion

Nevertheless, because of the rapidity of technological, market, and social change, the panel cannot be confident that the engineering supply system will continue to be sufficiently adaptive in the future.

Recommendation

To permit the timely recognition of future problems as they develop, some means of monitoring the functioning of the engineering supply system should be put in place. Based on short-term (e.g., industry recruitment and government research grants) as well as



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Page 72 6 Conclusions and Recommendations The following conclusions drawn from the deliberations of the panel are paired with recommendations for action (if any) needed to address that problem or circumstance. Conclusion In the past, the engineering supply system has responded well to changing societal demand. The engineering institutions have proven to be remarkably adaptable in practice, and individual engineers have generally been flexible in responding to change—although spot shortages and a certain amount of individual hardship have not been entirely avoided. Despite numerous stresses, the system continues to function reasonably well today. Recommendation Because the system is working reasonably well in meeting demand at the present time, no precipitous actions should be taken that would alter its basic functioning under present conditions. Conclusion Nevertheless, because of the rapidity of technological, market, and social change, the panel cannot be confident that the engineering supply system will continue to be sufficiently adaptive in the future. Recommendation To permit the timely recognition of future problems as they develop, some means of monitoring the functioning of the engineering supply system should be put in place. Based on short-term (e.g., industry recruitment and government research grants) as well as

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Page 73 long-term (e.g., trends and projections) data, this approach would provide an engineering-specific complement to the excellent Science Indicators report prepared biennially by the National Science Board. In addition, methods should be explored for increasing the responsiveness of the system at such time as should be required. One approach would be to regularly construct scenarios of events and responses, based on historical case studies and engineering manpower models, in order to test the effectiveness of potential interventions. Conclusion The system has been able to respond adequately to changing demand largely because: (1) the engineering educational system is diversified and flexible enough to adapt institutionally and pedagogically to new requirements, and (2) students react quickly to economic signals in opting for or against an engineering career and in choosing specific fields of engineering study. Recommendation In order to retain the responsiveness of engineers and of the overall system, engineering schools should not introduce greater specialization into their curricula. Instead, they should continue to emphasize basic skills and interdisciplinary study. Conclusion The current shortage of faculty makes it difficult for engineering schools to offer a high degree of specialized training while still offering the broad, balanced education necessary for maintaining adaptability in the engineering system. Recommendation Alternate sources of faculty, such as practicing engineers ''on loan" from industry, should be developed (although it must be recognized that there are serious disincentives for practicing engineers to participate; nor do all competent engineers make competent teachers). Increased use of teaching assistants and non-Ph.D. faculty would also expand a school's teaching capacity. Perhaps the most exciting potential, however, lies in new ways of teaching. The engineering educational system should utilize educational technology to the fullest in developing alternate methods of instruction. Computer-aided instruction, computer simulations, and the creative use of satellite technology for voice-video-data communications are among the most promising opportunities. Conclusion Social values and attitudes play an increasingly important role in establishing and altering patterns of demand for engineering-related products. Recommendation Engineering education should be structured to instill in the student the knowledge that engineering is a social enter-

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Page 74 prise, having social ramifications, and that the innovation and management of complex technical systems involves consideration of social preferences and impacts as well as economic and political realities. Engineers should be trained to view their work in light of anticipated criticism on the basis of social impacts. In addition, the engineering professional societies can be instrumental in informing engineers on these matters and addressing broad political and social issues on behalf of the profession. Conclusion Both directly and indirectly, the federal government has become a dominant user of engineering goods and services. (Some 15 percent of engineers are employed directly, another 30 percent or more indirectly.) As a result, the panel is concerned about the relative balance in civil and government utilization of these goods and services, and its impact on the strength of the commercial infrastructure. It is also concerned about the ways in which this increasing "public sector" demand affects the structure, content, and orientation of engineering education. Recommendation Some mechanism and methodology should be devised for determining whether (and to what extent) necessary civil applications of engineering goods and services are being compromised through governmental competition. The shifting balance between the market context for engineering and the public context should be monitored by this means. When necessary, government should endeavor to restore a healthy balance through appropriate actions (for example, by improving R&D in support of elements of the commercial infrastructure). Conclusion The introduction of new techniques and technologies (including all those associated with automation) is likely to create considerable job displacement among workers in both the manufacturing and service sectors. These trends may then generate political and social pressures having strong implications for engineering, as was seen in connection with environmental issues during the 1970s. Recommendation The engineering profession should recognize the seriousness of this issue but should understand that it is also a management problem and a political problem. Mechanisms should be set up to monitor the employment impacts of automation and to identify the points at which political and technological intervention may be useful or necessary. This monitoring should comprise more than just the collection of statistical employment data. It should also include

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Page 75 directed studies (perhaps longitudinal) of the economic impacts of technological unemployment on individuals and groups. Conclusion Current engineering students are generally among the most able in their age cohort, with high ability in science and math as well as strong verbal skills. However, science and math literacy in the overall high school population is declining. It cannot be assumed that engineering schools' students will continue indefinitely to be drawn from the highest ability group. Yet a great increase in emphasis on science and math in engineering work can be expected by the year 2000. Recommendation The engineering profession—in particular, the professional societies—should actively support efforts by government at all levels to enhance the delivery and effectiveness of precollege education in science and mathematics.