Phase I Revisited
As a prelude to considering formulation of recommendations for the reengineering of engineering education, the Phase I committee imagined how the context of engineering practice may change by 2020. A brief summary of their observations is provided below.
THE PACE OF TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE
Change is constant, but, on an absolute basis, our world has changed more in the past 100 years than in all those preceding. By the end of the twentieth century, the developed world had become a healthier, safer, and more productive place, a place where engineering, through technology, had forged an irreversible imprint on our lives and our identity.
Scientific and engineering knowledge presently doubles every 10 years (Wright, 1999). This geometric growth rate has been reflected in an accelerating rate of technology introduction and adoption. Product cycle times continue to decrease, and each cycle delivers more functional and often less expensive versions of existing products, and occasionally introducing entirely new “disruptive” technologies. Older technologies are becoming obsolete at an increasing rate. Recent and emergent advances, such as those in biotechnology, nanotechnology, information and communications technology, material science and photonics, and other totally unanticipated technologies will be among
the changes with which engineering and engineering education will need to contend leading up to 2020 and beyond.
The engineer of 2020 will need to learn much new technical information and techniques and be conversant with and embrace a whole realm of new technologies, but some old problems are not going to go away. They will demand new attention and, perhaps, new technologies. In some cases, their continuing neglect will move them from problems to crises.
Although the United States has arguably had the best physical infrastructure in the developed world, the concern is that these infrastructures are in serious decline. Because it is of more recent vintage, the nation’s information and telecommunications infrastructure has not suffered nearly as much degradation, but vulnerabilities of the infrastructure (or infrastructures) due to accidental or intentional events are well recognized and a serious concern. Natural resource and environmental concerns will continue to frame our world’s challenges. For example, in 2020 the state of California will need the equivalent of 40 percent more electrical capacity, 40 percent more gasoline, and 20 percent more natural gas energy than was needed in the year 2000 (CABTH, 2001). Forty-eight countries containing a total of 2.8 billion people could face fresh-water shortages by 2025 (Hinrichsen et al., 1997). The populations of developed countries will “age” and engineering can be an agent for developing assistive technologies for aging citizens to help them maintain healthy, productive lifestyles well beyond conventional retirement age.
SOCIAL CONTEXT OF ENGINEERING PRACTICE
The future is uncertain. However, one thing is clear: Engineering will not operate in a vacuum separate from society in 2020, any more than it does now. Both on a macroscale, where the world’s natural resources will be stressed by population increases, and on a microscale, where engineers need to understand how to work in teams to be effective, consideration of social issues is important to engineering.
By the year 2020, the world population will approach 8 billion people, and much of that increase will be among groups that today are
outside of the developed nations (CIA, 2001).1 Of the 1.5 billion people that the world population will gain by 2020, most will be added to countries in Asia and Africa. By 2015, and for the first time in history, the majority of people, mostly poor, will reside in urban centers, mostly in countries that lack the economic, social, and physical infrastructures to support a burgeoning population.
In the United States, if current trends continue, Hispanic Americans will account for 17 percent of the U.S. population and African Americans will constitute 12.8 percent of the population by 2020. The percentage of whites will decline from the 2000 value of 75.6 percent to 63.7 percent. Looking even further into the future, by 2050, almost half of the U.S. population will be nonwhite (USCB, 2002). Thus, in 2020 and beyond, the engineering profession will need to develop solutions that will serve an increasingly diverse community and will likely need to (and should try to) draw more students from sectors of the community that traditionally have not been well represented in the engineering workforce.
As new knowledge on health and health care is created, shifts in life expectancies will lead to an increase in the number of people living well beyond established retirement ages. With increases in life expectancy, relatively fewer young workers will be available to help pay for the services that older citizens expect to have, and stresses on economic systems will occur. An aging population makes greater demands on the health care system, heightens labor force contractions, and increases political instability (CIA, 2001). The engineering profession of 2020 will have to operate in this environment, which may include “senior” engineers who are willing and able to work, and perhaps compelled to do so because of economic necessity.
In contrast to the aging trend, nations in many politically unstable parts of the world will experience a “youth bulge,” a disproportionate number of 15- to 29-year-olds in the general population; globally, more than 50 percent of the world’s population could be under 18 years old in 2020. Youth-bulge conditions are likely in many regions of recent social and political tension, which are exacerbated by an excess of idle youth unable to find employment. As a consequence, the world could
face continuing social and political unrest and threats from terrorism and fundamentalism, creating an increased need for military services and security measures domestically and abroad.
Among these unfolding changes, the world’s economy, which has become tightly interlinked, with much of the change triggered by technology itself, will remain so, short of worldwide military or economic warfare. In such an environment, the marketplace for engineering services will be worldwide, and jobs will move freely. Information sharing allowed by the Internet, broadband communication links, and high-speed computers has the effect of tying cultures, knowledge, and economies together with possible positive as well as negative impacts on U.S.-based engineers. For many years to come, engineers in developing economies will be willing and able to do equivalent work for less than U.S. wages. The key to maintaining a robust marketplace for U.S. engineers will be how they can bring additional value to offset this difference.
PROFESSIONAL CONTEXT FOR ENGINEERS IN THE FUTURE
In the past, steady increases in knowledge have spawned new subspecialties within engineering (e.g., microelectronics, photonics, and biomechanics). However, contemporary challenges—from biomedical devices to complex manufacturing designs to large systems of networked devices—increasingly require a systems perspective. This drives a growing need to pursue collaborations with multidisciplinary teams of technical experts. Important attributes for these teams include excellence in communication (with technical and public audiences), an ability to communicate using technology, and an understanding of the complexities associated with a global market and social context. Flexibility, receptiveness to change, and mutual respect are essential as well.
The explosion in knowledge sharing, coupled with advances in technology, will provide the ability to achieve a new era in customerization—a buyer-centric business strategy that combines mass customization with customized marketing (Wind and Rangaswamy, 2000). This will demand the social interaction of many engineers with customers, even more so than today, belying the image of the engineer as the “techie nerd” and demanding that such engineers have well-developed people skills in addition to their ability to solve problems.
The business competitiveness, military strength, health, and stan-
dard of living of a nation are integrally connected to engineering. As technology becomes increasingly ingrained into every facet of our lives, the convergence between engineering and public policy will also increase. This new level of interrelatedness necessitates that engineering, and engineers, develop a stronger sense of how technology and public policy interact. To date, engagement of engineers in public policy issues has been limited at best. It is both the responsibility of engineers and important to the image of the profession that engineers increase their ability to eloquently articulate the relevance of engineering to many public policy issues. In parallel with this, it is critical to try to improve public understanding of engineering, so that the public can appreciate the value and consequences of new technology and meaningfully participate in public debates where technology is a critical factor.
Attention to ethical issues in engineering through review of case studies—perhaps delivered and supported by advances in information technology (as described in the paper by Donald Falkenburg in Appendix A) will reduce our vulnerability to repeat the mistakes of the past and increase our opportunities to emulate “best practice” successes.
CABTH (California Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency). 2001. Invest for California: Strategic Planning for California’s Future Prosperity and Quality of Life. Report of the California Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency Commission on Building for the 21st Century. Sacramento, Calif. Available online at http://www.bth.ca.gov/invest4ca/. Accessed May 5, 2005.
CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). 2001. Long-Term Global Demographic Trends: Reshaping the Geopolitical Landscape. Available online at http://www.odci.gov/cia/reports/Demo_Trends_For_Web.pdf. Accessed April 19, 2005.
Hinrichsen, D., B. Robey, and U. D. Upadhyay. 1997. Solutions for a Water-Short World. Population Reports, Series M, No. 14. Baltimore, Md.: Population Information Program, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
USCB (U.S. Census Bureau). 2002. U.S. Census Bureau National Population Projections. Available online at http://www.census.gov/population/www/projections/natproj.html. Accessed April 19, 2005.
Wind, J., and A. Rangaswamy. 2000. Customerization: The Next Revolution in Mass Customization. University Park, Pa.: eBusiness Research Center, Pennsylvania State University. Available online at http://www.smeal.psu.edu/ebrc/publications/res_papers/1999_06.pdf. Accessed May 5, 2005.
Wright, B. T. 1999. Knowledge Management. Presentation at meeting of Industry–University–Government Roundtable on Enhancing Engineering Education, May 24, 1999, Iowa State University, Ames.