Business, Consumers, and Society-at-Large: New Demands and Expectations
MARINA v.N. WHITMAN
The engineer in America today is looked to for solutions to a seemingly endless array of problems that go far beyond what can be found in the textbooks that were part of his or her formal training. Business leaders look to engineers for answers to the competitive challenges confronting them; consumers look to them for more convenient, affordable, reliable, and value-laden products; and government leaders and public interest groups look to them for technological solutions to societal concerns such as safety, health, energy conservation, and protection of the environment. The focus is especially intense because the three constituencies overlap: the consumer is also a voter, the business executive is also a consumer, as is the government official or politician, and there is frequently tension between his or her interests and goals in each role.
In short, engineering is in the spotlight as never before. While it is true that the profession has always served all three constituencies (business, consumers, and society-at-large) and advanced all of their goals, the intensity of the demands and expectations focused upon the engineering profession and the individual engineer from all three directions today is truly unprecedented.
The intensity of those demands and expectations is related to what has emerged as a national crisis of confidence, stemming from the convergence of several unprecedented trends over the past decade or so. The United States has shifted from trade surplus to chronic deficit and from the world's largest international creditor to its largest international debtor. At the same time, we have seen the end of U.S. economic hegemony, with Japan challenging our industrial leadership and such countries as Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong—the “Four Tigers”—achieving high rates of manufacturing
productivity and economic growth by combining relatively inexpensive labor with modern technology. Symptoms of the resulting confidence crisis include the erosion of our postwar sense of responsibility for maintaining effective international trade and monetary systems and the gradual shift in self-identity that comes with a feeling that we can no longer afford to sublimate short-term economic interests to longer-run strategic and foreign policy goals.
The question of “What happened to us, and why?” has been the focus of seemingly endless debate and a string of news stories about where the country's weaknesses lie and how the priorities should be set for industry as well as government. The caliber of America's engineering has been featured prominently in the debate and in the articles because anxiety over industrial competitiveness has emerged as one of the most prominent symptoms of our faltering self-confidence.
Why are engineering and the engineer now perceived to be at the heart of both the problem and the solution? It is because of a widespread sense that our competitive problem is more one of the effective application of scientific knowledge (i.e., technology transfer) than of inadequacy in basic scientific innovation. The argument is that America remains a leader in basic scientific innovation but that we have fallen down in the industrial and commercial application of those innovations. Japan's technological and industrial success over the past three decades, it is generally believed, has been in application rather than innovation: the Japanese have mastered the art of taking the scientist's innovation and then engineering new or improved commercial applications for it. One of the most vivid examples, of course, is the videocassette recorder. The technology was developed in this country but the Japanese made it commercial. Today there are no VCRs built in this country.
The situation is especially ironic because of what is happening in the education and training of engineers. The world's leading postgraduate programs in science and engineering are here in this country, but they are increasingly filled by students from abroad because so many Americans apparently lack the training, the desire, or both to fill them.
All of this points to the need to raise the status, understanding, and recognition of the engineering profession. At the same time, of course, the same demands and expectations that are now focused on the engineer also underscore the need to raise engineers' own understanding of the complexity of the demands that confront them and to raise their ability to communicate effectively with nonengineers: all of which again underscores the need for nonengineers to appreciate the role of engineering in our society. In this paper, I will first explore the nature of the demands and expectations being put on the engineer in three different aspects: the product, the manufacturing process, and the workplace. I will then explore the implications of these demands for the skills needed by engineers as we approach the twenty-first century. Most of the
examples used throughout the paper come from the auto industry but all have general application to the engineering profession.
PRODUCT DEMANDS AND EXPECTATIONS IN THE AUTO INDUSTRY
Demands and expectations relative to products are at the heart of the engineer's daily challenge and thus warrant more detailed analysis than those relative to the manufacturing process and the workplace. The traditional demands to engineer an automobile that will satisfy the consumer have been complicated by newer demands to further a wide variety of social goals that include promoting safety and preserving the environment. At the same time, the traditional demands for an automobile that is cost-effective and state-of-the-art—in short, one that will help the engineer's firm remain competitive by meeting customer demands —have been intensified by the globalization of competition and the accelerated pace and diffusion of technological change.
Global Economic Interdependence and Competition
The globalization of competition, often discussed in the context of our national crisis of confidence with the exchange of buzzwords rather than the analysis of fundamental forces, deserves special note. The globalization of competition is in fact both a cause and an effect of a shift toward global economic interdependence, a phenomenon that is beyond the control of the engineer, the economist, or the politician, and yet is shaped in part by all of them.
From the perspective of the engineer, seeking to get a grip on the opportunities as well as the problems that come with a global marketplace, there are two crucial aspects of interdependence: one positive and one negative—not unlike yin and yang in the Confucian view of the world. The positive aspect is expansion of international trade and investment stimulate economic growth and development. That was certainly true during the quarter century following World War II, when growth in trade and investment stimulated steady increases in output, income, and living standards around the globe.
But there is also a negative or “dark” aspect. As countries share in the benefits of trade and investment, they become more vulnerable to shifts and disruptions in goods and financial markets outside their borders. Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably, this vulnerability is the aspect of interdependence that has registered most strongly in the national consciousness during the economic turbulence of the 1970s and 1980s.
At the microeconomic level, growing interdependence makes it increasingly difficult to separate domestic markets, products, and competition from international ones. Markets, competition, and production have all become global. The
action is now across the world as well as across the street, with companies having to deal with international competitors in their “home” markets as well as in export markets.
What has happened in the U.S. auto industry is typical of many other industries. In 1962, imports accounted for 4 percent of the vehicles sold in the United States, compared with nearly 30 percent today. Not only are foreign-based competitors exporting to the U.S. market; they are setting up production bases to reduce the uncertainties associated with exchange rates and the threat of import restraints. For example, the Japanese have built what in the auto industry are called “transplants,” plants that produce vehicles in this country to capture expanded market-share growth that would otherwise be reflected entirely in increased imports from Japan.
And, of course, U.S. manufacturers have also been placing increasing importance on markets and production bases outside North America. Exchange rates, relative production costs, and the size of foreign markets themselves have led U.S. automakers to global marketing and production strategies using a variety of locations for component production and vehicle assembly and aimed at a variety of geographic markets.
One of the most important lessons we have learned from the competitive battle of the 1980s is that it is not a simple matter of geography, with North America destined to lose out to the Pacific Rim, as many observers thought a few years ago. High-quality and high-value automobiles can be produced and sold in virtually any part of the globe. For example, some Japanese auto manufacturers, as well as U.S. manufacturers, are now building cars cost-effectively in this country for export to Japan.
The Need to Set World Standards
The lesson for industry and for the engineering profession is that leaders in today's global marketplace set world standards for innovation, quality, and value. They do not just meet the standards set elsewhere or set standards among domestic competitors. This high-sounding challenge is the same basic business principle that has applied ever since people began selling things to one another. The way to beat the competition and win the buyer's decision is to build better products and deliver better service at a price that the buyer perceives to give good value.
The globalization of competition has also taught us that when industries or companies cannot compete effectively in product quality and value, trade barriers or related forms of government intervention offer ephemeral solutions. They only delay the day of reckoning for those domestic firms that fail to meet or exceed the foreign competition 's standards.
Similar examples of the integration of service and high-technology activities and expertise into traditional manufacturing and products abound in other
industries. In fact, it would be inaccurate to describe “high-tech” itself as a separate industry or even a separate segment of any given industry. The forces of global competition lead all competitors in all industries—including the auto industry—to adopt state-of-the-art technology in every aspect of their operations.
The distinctions between goods and services are similarly diminishing. Indeed, one leading financial analyst recently observed that “already, U.S. businesses get more of their financing from General Motors than from Citicorp.” This increasing consumer reliance on the financial service arms of such automotive companies as Ford and General Motors for financing is only one example of today's intertwined service and manufacturing industries. Each is often the other's customer; what happens in one affects the other. Also, in the auto industry, as in many others, success is determined by the total customer experience, not by the product alone. That means that the dealer's “service,” encompassing personal treatment of the customer as well as how well the product is serviced, may be as crucial as the perceived quality and value of the product. The engineer is in a sense the point person in this process of integrating high-tech services into the manufacturing process, as will be discussed in more detail.
In the quest to set world standards, industrial companies are incorporating large elements of the so-called service and high-tech sectors into traditional manufacturing activities. For example, General Motors acquired Electronic Data Systems, an information technology services company to integrate the computer into all phases of GM's design, engineering, and manufacturing processes in facilities around the world. Similarly, one of the major goals in the acquisition of Hughes Aircraft was to apply their leadership in systems engineering and electronics to the development of today's and tomorrow's vehicles. To put all this in perspective, the market for automotive electronics, including microprocessors, is expected to grow from around $18 billion in 1990 to $30 billion by 1995, while the electronic value of an average vehicle is expected to grow from $600 today to as much as $1,500 by 1995.
Growing Societal Demands on the Product
Competitive pressures make it both more important and more difficult for the engineer to balance the demands of the customer with those of society. The automobile is a good example of the tension. The customer demands mobility, style, comfort, convenience, reliability, affordability, and value; society demands safety, fuel efficiency, and pollution reduction.
This balancing act is becoming increasingly difficult in part, because of our postwar economic success. As U.S. companies prospered and incomes and living standards rose, society began to demand an increasing measure of “nonmarket” or “social” goods—such things as safety, and environmental protection. These demands on industry and government, in turn, spawned an evermore complex
regulatory environment and an uncomfortably adversarial relationship between government and business. This relationship itself has almost certainly played a role in the national crisis of confidence we are experiencing today.
A benchmark in the evolution of this uncomfortably adversarial relationship is a famous, and often-misquoted, anecdote from the 1950s, when a General Motors president made headlines and won himself a place in history at a Senate hearing. The man was “Engine Charlie” Wilson and he was testifying after being nominated as Secretary of Defense by President Eisenhower. What the newspapers quoted him as saying was, “What's good for General Motors is good for America, and vice versa.” What he really said was, “I have always believed that what's good for America is good for General Motors, and vice versa. ”
That statement was great fodder for the critics, but it is in fact not a bad description of reality. In the big picture, when one gains the other gains, and vice versa. Clearly, the two are never going to converge on every issue. But at the same time, we cannot expect society and industry to maximize their competitive potential in the world arena if the tone of the relationship between government and business is predominantly adversarial—in contrast to the more cooperative relationships that characterize “most” other industrialized countries.
As was noted by Sheila Jasanoff in a recent issue of Daedalus devoted exclusively to the subject of risk (Jasanoff, 1990, p. 63):
Studies of public health, safety, and environmental regulation published in the 1980s revealed striking differences between American and European practices for managing technological risks. These studies showed that U.S. regulators on the whole were quicker to respond to new risks, more aggressive in pursuing old ones, and more concerned with producing technical justifications for their actions than their European counterparts. Regulatory styles, too, diverged sharply somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. process for making risk decisions impressed all observers as costly, confrontational, litigious, formal, and unusually open to participation. European decision making, despite important differences within and among countries, seemed by comparison almost uniformly cooperative and consensual; informal, cost conscious, and for the most part closed to the public.
All of this is not to say we should adopt the kind of government subsidies or targeted national industrial strategies that are used by some of our trading partners. Rather, both sides need to be aware of the stakes involved when public policy in the form of legislative or regulatory requirements impedes, rather than harnesses, the working of market forces. One of the greatest lessons of the past 20 years of regulation is that market incentives are in most cases far more effective in achieving societal goals than regulatory mandates that attempt to command and control economic behavior.
Again, the engineering function is inevitably affected by the nature of the relationship between business and government. In the United States, engineers have had to respond to a process for setting automotive emissions standards
that from the perspective of the automobile industry has often seemed to be determined more by emotion and political pressure than by either hard scientific data or the realities of the marketplace. In Western Europe, in contrast, the less adversarial climate has allowed for a more rational and cooperative approach to solutions for pollution reduction. For example, 19 European governments and 400 companies and research institutions have cooperated in funding the $4.9 billion EUREKA project for the development of Intelligent Vehicle-Highway Systems (IVHS) technologies. In the United States, in contrast, less than $10 million has been committed to the two largest IVHS projects now under way. One of these, Project PATHFINDER, is a $1.65 million cooperative venture between the California Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and General Motors. The other, funded with $8 million is called TRAVTEK. It is a venture between the Federal Highway Administration, the American Automobile Association, the Florida Department of Transportation, the City of Orlando, Florida, and GM.
Market Incentives versus Command-and-Control Regulation: The Environmental Example
Market-based incentives are more effective in reaching technological solutions to societal problems than are command-and-control regulations. This point is especially relevant to the current debate over environmental protection. Perhaps the most important advantage of market-based approaches, from the engineer's viewpoint as well as that of the policymaker, is their ability to foster long-term innovation. Environmental policies must be structured to achieve steady, continuous improvements. To be successful, such improvements must stay ahead of economic growth to ensure that living standards keep pace with the growth of population in much of the world. To solve this Malthusian dilemma, the environmental progress of one generation simply must provide a basis for further progress in the next.
Only markets and marketlike mechanisms have this property. To be sure, command-and-control regulation can influence innovation, but the impacts are quite different. Command and control specifies maximum emissions, and often particular performance standards. This rigidity tends to limit both the scope and extent of innovation over time. It gives rise to narrowly focused changes that leave out important sectors of the economy. Such an approach also gives rise to technological change in fits and starts, as opposed to producing the kind of broad-based, steady and continuous development required for long-term innovation. Producers tend to push for only the amount of innovation necessary to achieve compliance with the standards of the day. There is no reward for exceeding those standards. Indeed, under U.S. environmental laws requiring the use of best available control technologies, the very discovery of such
technologies can be grounds for further, costly technological requirements —a clear disincentive for innovation.
In sharp contrast, economic incentives reward every new technology, every new production process that can result in better environmental control. Businesses have the same incentive to invest in methods and devices that reduce pollution as they do in devices that save labor or economize inputs of capital. This stimulus for producers to innovate may well be the most powerful reason for preferring market-based mechanisms over command and control for most types of pollution problems. Indeed, for global problems such as the control of greenhouse gases, where it is simply not possible to specify in advance the specific technologies that will prove to be most effective, economic incentives (as opposed to command-and-control regulation) are the best and most effective way to get “from here to there.”
Costs of Environmental Progress
Concern for the environment has never been as intense or widespread as it is today. Surveys indicate that three out of four Americans consider themselves to be “environmentalists.” Ninety-seven percent think the country should be doing more to protect the environment and curb pollution. Seventy-five percent say they are willing to pay higher taxes if the revenues go to cleaning up the environment.
This was the climate leading up to passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. GM and much of the rest of U.S. industry (not just the auto industry) supported the amendments as representing a difficult stretch but also the best achievable compromise among many different interests.
However, progress—like all other things in life—has its price. The auto industry, again, provides an example of progress already achieved and challenges ahead. In the 1990s and beyond, the engineer will be a key player in the policy debate as well as the implementation of new solutions.
As a nation, we have made great progress in cleaning up the air since the 1970s, in spite of continued population and economic growth. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ozone formation in the lower atmosphere in this country has been reduced by 21 percent; nitrogen dioxide by 14 percent; and dirt, dust, and particulates by 23 percent. The U.S. automobile industry has made major contributions to improved air quality by reducing emissions from its vehicles and its plants. Emissions from new passenger cars have been reduced substantially since clean air regulations were first introduced. There are three important categories of emissions from the vehicles on our roads today: unburned fuel in the form of hydrocarbons; partially burned fuel or carbon monoxide; and oxides of nitrogen, a by-product of the combustion process. Since the early 1970s, total exhaust emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon
monoxide from passenger cars have been reduced by 96 percent, and oxides of nitrogen by 76 percent.
The industry achieved those results with several significant technological innovations. The most important was the catalytic converter, which uses platinum and rhodium as catalysts for the chemical reactions that turn hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and oxides of nitrogen into water and carbon dioxide. Computers control air-fuel mixture and spark in the engine for maximum power, fuel economy, and minimal emissions.
As older cars are replaced with newer models equipped with the latest emission-control technology, emissions will continue to decline at no incremental cost. Currently, 85 percent of the auto pollution comes from the oldest 50 percent of the vehicles on the road. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that by the year 2000, as older vehicles are replaced, fleet average hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emission levels will decline by 40 to 50 percent, and oxides of nitrogen emissions by 33 percent, from current levels.
The industry has also upgraded many of its manufacturing operations. For example, billions of dollars have been invested to construct new paint facilities or modernize existing facilities to control the release of volatile organic compounds—mostly hydrocarbon solvents —as a car is spray painted.
Having made these investments and achieved this progress, the auto industry must now focus on how to remove the remaining small percentages of exhaust emissions. In the case of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emissions from passenger cars, for example, all but four percent of the emissions have been removed since the 1970s. The costs and technological challenges of removing that final 4 percent will be much greater than those for the first 96 percent.
The cost and effectiveness of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 remain to be seen. However, from the standpoint of industry and the engineer's role in seeking and implementing new solutions, three criteria should be followed as the process of writing regulations to implement the Act moves forward: (1) The standards should be technologically feasible; (2) there should be adequate lead time to design a new system and get ready to produce it and adequate phase-in time to allow orderly development of systems; and, (3) there should be time to make sure that the systems put on cars could perform under real-world conditions, so that the cars our customers were actually driving would meet the standards.
The Engineer in the Eye of the Hurricane
The Clean Air Act is just one example of how the engineer is caught in the eye of the hurricane, pulled in different directions by the conflicting demands of the individual customer, the company, and the society as reflected in legislative and regulatory requirements. It often seems as if the engineer's work is
overdetermined, with more objectives to be met than there are instruments with which to meet them. The consumer wants the cleanest and healthiest environment possible but also wants the freedom, comfort, flexibility, and utility represented by a full range of personal transportation vehicles. Consumers in all markets, including Europe, continue to demand more performance, comfort, and convenience in the automobile. The hot-selling cars today are anything but the tiny no-frills vehicles many thought were the wave of the future during the energy scares of the 1970s.
Adding to the pressure on the engineer, the societal demands weighing against such individual consumer demands are also dynamic rather than static, as are the consumer's demands and the competitive pressures discussed earlier. Trade-offs have always been the centerpiece of the engineer's challenge, but they have become broader and more difficult. What is “environmentally correct” today, for example, is far different from what was correct 25 years ago. This is highlighted by an anecdote from Robert C. Stempel, General Motors' new chairman and chief executive officer. When Bob started his career as an engineer, the ideal to aim for was perfect engine combustion, with only two “totally benign” by-products, water and carbon dioxide. But today, with concern about global warming and the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide, rather than being benign, may actually lie at the heart of concerns about the impact of human activity on the pace and magnitude of global warming.
No one in industry, government, or the scientific community knows whether the environmental goals now being discussed can ever be achieved or if they even address the basic problems effectively. California, the “trend-setter” state, illustrates the dichotomy. People have never expressed greater urgency for cleaning up the air in the Los Angeles basin, but those same people indicate by their behavior that they do not want to be told what kind of car they have to drive or when they can drive it. For example, 10 years ago Hughes Aircraft began what is probably the country's largest ride-sharing program, offering its employees a fleet of 302 vans for commuting in groups to and from work, but only 19 percent of Hughes' employees participate. Sixty percent say they would not even consider ride-sharing as an alternative to enduring the frustration of fighting Los Angeles' traffic in their own automobiles.
The Experience of the 1970s as a Guide for the 1990s
The experience of the 1970s offers a vivid lesson to public policymakers as well as to industry—and the engineer in particular—in balancing conflicting pressures and priorities. The lesson is that the emotions and assumptions of the moment must be tempered with flexibility and a long-range view subject to new scientific knowledge and changing political and economic circumstances. Engineers can and must contribute to an understanding of these basic principles.
A major U.S. policy response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo was a combination of price controls on crude oil and allocation of supplies among refiners. That hastily implemented so-called solution only created an inefficient bureaucratic maze and contributed to lines at the gasoline pumps. Similarly, the United States rushed into a synthetic fuel program that was all but dead by the end of the 1970s, with little to show for the money spent.
In retrospect, one of the greatest ironies of the 1970s was that the auto industry achieved major progress in meeting societal demands for energy conservation and pollution reduction, but was nonetheless widely perceived to be dragging its heels. At the same time, the diversion of technical and financial resources made the industry take its eye off the customer satisfaction ball, which created a vacuum into which foreign competitors moved and are now well established. Consequently, today's automotive engineer is being asked to reconcile the conflict among competitive, consumer, and societal demands through ingenious applications of technology while avoiding these mistakes of the 1970s.
DEMANDS AND EXPECTATIONS IN AUTOMOTIVE MANUFACTURING
The challenge in manufacturing processes, is summed up in four terms every engineer has long been familiar with: cost-effectiveness, quality, speed, and flexibility. The automotive engineer is asked to reduce the cost of producing a specific component or system (such as a bumper or a transmission) while at the same time increasing the quality and reliability of the product, reducing the time required to get it to market, and making the manufacturing process more adaptable to changes in design or production volume.
Simplicity, expressed in the concept of design-for-manufacturability, has become the hallmark of virtually all engineering programs and projects today. This means the engineer must get involved in all aspects of the product cycle— from design to service—and deal with a broad army of disciplines in each phase of the cycle, which is what simultaneous engineering is all about. The ideas and interests of every discipline (e.g., designers, financial and marketing experts, product and process engineers) must be taken into consideration at the beginning of the process, rather than taking a completed product design and “throwing it over the transom” to the engineers and others responsible for actual manufacturing.
The Importance of Systems Engineering
Along with simultaneous engineering, systems engineering has taken on new urgency as cost effectiveness and flexibility continue to drive the entire product cycle. Intensifying competition and the increasing complexity of the
product itself are causing the industry to turn to the methodology of systems engineering for planning, executing, and validating applications of new technology.
The term “systems engineering” itself is becoming a buzzword in circles beyond the engineering profession. Like other buzzwords, however, it is sometimes used without much consideration of what it really means. Systems engineering is a cost-effective way to define, integrate and design all subsystems so that the total system design for a product best suits the original requirements.
Systems engineering starts with the definition of the customer's requirements and proceeds through the allocation of those requirements to the total system, subsystems and, finally, components of the product. All of the requisite disciplines and different organizations are pulled together at the beginning and continue working together throughout all phases as the design develops: that is, as the components, subsystems and systems, are built, integrated, and then validated against the original requirements, each component and each process phase is treated as part of the greater system rather than in isolation.
Not surprisingly, systems engineering methodology was developed in the defense and aerospace industries as products became more complex and customers' requirements became more stringent. In those industries, quality and overall performance had to be ensured before single components or subsystems could be tested as part of the total system. Without such structured coordination, this country's program to land a man on the moon might never have gotten off the ground in the 1960s. The same may apply to automotive programs in the 1990s and beyond as technology and the product itself continue to grow more sophisticated and complex.
There was a time, of course, when the automotive engineer didn't see a need for that kind of up-front discipline in planning and managing his projects. In fact, the auto industry itself evolved as a loose network of subsystems and components—an axle operation here, a gear operation there, and an engine operation in a third place, for example. Indeed, innovations at the component level have been hallmarks of our progress in such components as the electric starter and the automatic transmission, where the vehicle manufacturer brought the different units together, assembled the different subsystems, and then worked out the bugs.
Searching for a “perfect” solution without regard to time or cost requirement has no place in today's competitive world. As automotive subsystems and components move in the direction of much more complexity and interaction, their influence on the whole car is more pervasive. That means sophisticated new technologies such as active suspension, antilock brakes, and traction control all must be applied in harmony, as a system, if they are to fulfill their customer-satisfaction potential.
Without the systems engineering approach, making changes is costly in
terms of product quality and financial expense. Hence, simultaneous engineering, with multidisciplinary focus on the customer's requirements at each stage of the design, development, and manufacturing process, must go hand-in-hand with systems engineering.
DEMANDS AND EXPECTATIONS IN THE AUTOMOTIVE WORKPLACE
Demands and expectations placed on the engineer today have been heightened by changes in the workplace itself, as well as in product and process. The movement toward participative management in the past few years means that the engineer's attitudes and perspectives on his or her own role in the organization have to shift.
There is a renewed emphasis on the central role of people and human relationships in the bottom line. The old hierarchical or adversarial structure of authority is giving way to more cooperative, consensus-based, decentralized authority models. This shift away from traditional labor relations to what might better be called “workplace relations ” reflects changing individual values and greater educational and skill requirements, shown first by Japanese and Swedish manufacturers as examples of successful employee involvement and participatory management to drive competitive advantage.
At the same time, however, change in the hierarchical authority structure does not imply abrogation of management's own responsibilities to provide leadership and produce a favorable return on the stockholders' investment. Rather, it implies a different, more open and consultative style of leadership. General Motors, like scores of other major companies, has implemented several changes to facilitate this different style. One GM example is a joint labor-management process called the Quality Network, meant to make a core set of beliefs and values the way of life throughout the workplace. The Quality Network's beliefs and values are customer satisfaction through people, teamwork, and continuous improvement.
Managers and engineers alike can no longer expect to get the best results by issuing commands and analyzing requirements and results in black-and-white terms. Traditional lines of authority are blurring not only in reaction to individual needs for self-fulfillment but also because American business has witnessed and analyzed a number of foreign models (particularly in Japan and Sweden) in which less authoritarianism and more employee involvement have led to success in the marketplace.
The growing diversity of the work force itself also poses new challenges to management style and practices, as was highlighted in the landmark Workforce 2000 study conducted by the Hudson Institute for the U.S. Department of Labor (1987). The following are among the study's major conclusions:
Native-born white males will make up only 15 percent of the new entrants into the labor force between 1987 and the year 2000, compared with the traditional rate of more than 50 percent.
Nonwhites will account for nearly 30 percent of the new entrants into the work force between 1987 and the year 2000, compared with less than 15 percent two years ago.
Almost two-thirds of the new entrants into the work force between 1987 and the year 2000 will be women.
Nonwhites, immigrants, and women together will make up more than 83 percent of the net additions to the work force, compared with about 50 percent today.
Culturally diverse employees and consumers want to buy products or services from companies sensitive to their wants and needs. They also seek adequate representation in professional and managerial positions, as well as at other levels in the company's work force.
U.S. business will increasingly aim its products and services at women and minorities at the same time as it relies on women and minorities to produce and sell those products and services. That is why one of the major challenges facing U.S. business today is to make sure future workers are given competitive education and training before they enter the workplace as well as throughout their working years. The way that challenge is met will affect management and organizational styles and effectiveness (i.e., the “business culture”) in all firms.
The definition of manager and engineer (as well as other specialists) in the corporation is also changing. Peter Drucker, the dean of management theorists, has predicted that the combined impact of mergers and acquisitions and the increasing need for specialized skills will lead to a drastic reduction in “middle” and “upper” management ranks between now and the year 2000 (Drucker, 1988). In his view, more and more managers will be performing technical or specialized production or marketing-related work rather than “general” management functions, and many “professional” people will be earning more money than the managers to whom they report!
All this applies also to the engineering profession—only more so—because it is at the center of the process of developing, refining, and making marketable the product that is the heart of the business. The engineer's rising prominence in the workplace will also be heightened by what is often called a “back to the basics” movement in the business world. There is less emphasis on diversification, more scrutiny of the reasons for foreign competitors' success, and a general reappraisal of the fundamentals in all industries. This has led to renewed emphasis on the processes of providing goods and services to the customer rather than shuffling assets: a focus on “work” rather than “deals.” Engineering and manufacturing are fashionable again!
TWO CRITICAL TOOLS OF MODERN ENGINEERING PRACTICE
Two tools that were not always seen as essential to get the job done in the past are now crucial for the engineer.
Lifelong learning and retraining The very uncertainty and dynamism of world circumstances require ongoing lifelong education rather than a process that ends with the receipt of the diploma. The pace of technological change, the growing internationalization and interdependence of markets, and the growing intensity of competition in most industries dictate that education and training be a constant process. The young engineer leaving school and entering the job market 20 years ago might well have assumed that the combination of the degree he or she was about to receive plus a capacity for hard work would be a sure ticket for career success and job security. However, no one entering the profession can make that assumption today with industry's emphasis on simultaneous engineering and system engineering.
Similarly, engineering training itself cannot be limited to its traditional curriculum. The disciplines of science and engineering are both growing more complex and intertwined as the knowledge base expands.
The engineer needs to understand other disciplines involved in the product, process, and workplace in order to make the trade-offs and achieve the balance discussed in this paper. The trade-offs and balancing act go beyond purely engineering assessments of which kind of sensor or fastener to use in specific product applications. They involve design and marketing disciplines related to customer satisfaction, and they involve economic and political analysis related to competitive and social goals and the legislative and regulatory process. The engineer needs to understand the interaction between engineering considerations and the much broader societal trade-offs confronting business today.
In the regulatory arena, for example, several tough nonengineering questions have to be answered and balanced against one another. The engineer plays a crucial role in finding the answers. For example:
What is the degree of scientific uncertainty associated with regulatory proposals?
Can the targets be achieved, given current technology? If not, what effect is “technology-forcing” likely to have?
Will the proposals in fact have the intended effect if carried out?
What are the ultimate costs and benefits of the proposals?
Which problems require global solutions, and which are better answered by local solutions?
What will it take to induce American consumers to pay the price? For example, will they be willing to buy an alternative-fuel vehicle if the industry is forced by legislation or regulation to build it?
We still do not know the answers to these questions, but they must be answered
and balanced against each other as well as against the common goal of a healthier environment.
Systems engineering can be an invaluable aid in the quest for this balance, and engineers can make a tremendous contribution to society if they take it upon themselves to include policymakers in such thinking. Public policy, not unlike an automobile or airplane, is the sum of separate laws and regulations.
It is not enough that individual proposals make sense on their own merits: for the resulting policy to be effective, hundreds of separate proposals, laws, and regulations must reinforce and mesh with each other into a coherent, manageable whole rather than duplicate, complicate, or hinder each other.
In government, several different congressional committees and regulatory agencies are responsible for formulating and enforcing public policy regarding safety, clean air, and energy. Constraints on time and other resources, combined with the overlapping jurisdictions of the various committees and agencies, make it difficult for each to analyze fully what the other is doing. The result can be a set of laws and regulations that may appear to be well focused, but when examined individually add up to confusing, unintendedly burdensome, and even self-contradictory policy. Strict adherence to the systems engineering approach enhance the policymaking process as well as the end product (and would make life simpler for all).
Communication skills Because the engineer's skill and judgment are sought out and scrutinized by a wide variety of constituencies, from manufacturing experts to marketing experts to public interest groups and government, today's engineer must be able to speak and write clearly, precisely, and persuasively. The warning issued by C. P. Snow (1959) in The Two Cultures is more valid today than ever. He warned that scientists and nonscientists were building a wall between themselves by their inability to understand each other's jargon, to the detriment of both groups as well as society at large.
That danger is even greater today. If the scientist and engineer do not communicate precisely and easily, if they do not understand each other's language and each other's world, then how can they be effective in dealing with the customers, public interest groups, and government officials who are demanding so much of them? It is interesting indeed that Snow 's treatise is appearing more and more frequently in speeches and articles on environmental and other regulatory issues.
Internally, the combination of interdisciplinary approaches and projects (e.g., simultaneous engineering and systems engineering) and more participative management means that engineers must be effective communicators with those above them (management) and those around them (peers in engineering and other disciplines). Externally, changing societal demands and expectations focused on engineers also mean that they must be effective communicators with those looking in on them (news media, legislators, regulators, public interest
groups). They must be able to explain the need for cooperative, nonadversarial approaches and relationships both internally and externally.
That means engineers must understand the thinking, goals, and constraints of “the other side” before they communicate their own views on an issue or problem. Again, C. P. Snow's argument is relevant. There is a vast difference between what the word “possible” means to the engineer and what it means to the regulator. For the engineer, “possible” means there is a good chance, though not a certainty, of being able to accomplish a goal: once it is accomplished, it must then be validated, certified, and worked into the product cycle.
For the regulator, on the other hand, when someone says a goal is “possible” it is often taken to mean that it can be implemented in a short time frame, meet certification requirements, and remain durable under a sweeping array of operating conditions—on pain of recall or fines. Engineers must understand this difference if we are to have a regulatory framework that takes account of technological feasibility, adequate lead time, and an orderly phase-in process, all of which are essential for quality and product assurance under real-world conditions.
At the same time, of course, engineers cannot afford to let themselves be intimidated or paralyzed by such differences in perception; they must maintain a traditional willingness to stretch, reach, and take risks. If they lose that willingness, then the continuous innovation that is the lifeblood of any dynamic society will inevitably suffer.
The future course of U.S. business and the U.S. economy will be determined by the interaction of three powerful forces: technological advances, competitive pressure to respond to consumer demands, and social expectations as embodied in legislative and regulatory requirements. Engineers, who have always been deeply involved in technological change are increasingly called on to respond to the other two forces as well. This implies increased leverage, broader opportunities, and more complex challenges for engineers, requiring in turn new skills, greater flexibility, and a broader perspective. As business, the individual consumer, and society work together to balance conflicting demands and make difficult trade-offs, it is clear that engineering will increasingly become a “social enterprise” as we move toward the twenty-first century.
Drucker, P. 1988 Tomorrow's restless managers Industry Week April 18 pp. 25–26
Jasanoff, S. 1990. American Exceptionalism and the Political Acknowledgement of Risk Daedalus 119(4) : 61–81
Snow, C. P. 1959 The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution The Rede Lecture New York : Cambridge University Press.
U.S. Department of Labor 1987 Workforce 2000 : Work and Workers for the 21st Century Washington, D.C. : U.S. Government Printing Office