THE IMPORTANCE OF
ENGINEERING TALENT TO
THE PROSPERITY AND
SECURITY OF THE NATION
SUMMARY OF A FORUM
Prepared by Steve Olson
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The subject of this report is the forum titled Importance of Engineering Talent to the Prosperity and Security of the Nation during the 2013 Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Engineering.
Opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the forum participants and not necessarily the views of the National Academy of Engineering.
International Standard Book Number 13: 978-0-309-29891-9
International Standard Book Number 10: 0-309-29891-1
Copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; online at www.nap.edu.
For more information about the National Academy of Engineering, visit the NAE home page at www.nae.edu.
Copyright 2014 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
The quality of engineering in the United States will only be as good as the quality of the engineers doing it. The recruitment and retention of talented young people into engineering therefore need to be top national priorities, given the crucial importance of engineering to our prosperity, security, health, and well-being. Yet I do not see engineering talent receiving nearly the attention it should.
Only 4.4 percent of the undergraduate degrees awarded by US colleges and universities are in engineering, compared with 13 percent in key European countries (the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, and France) and 23 percent in key Asian countries (India, Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore). In other words, more than one in five graduates of these Asian countries receives a degree in engineering, compared with fewer than one in twenty graduates of a US university. In the past, the United States has been able to attract engineering graduate students and professionals from other countries to meet the need for engineering talent in the public and private sectors. But other countries are providing increasingly attractive opportunities for engineers, with excellent salaries, facilities, and economic growth potential. The United States can no longer assume that the best engineering talent in the world will want to come to this country.
At the 2013 annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering, the morning of the second day was devoted to a forum entitled “Importance of Engineering Talent to the Prosperity and Security of the Nation.” Moderator Christine Romans, host of CNN’s Your Money program, introduced the six forum speakers as a “superstar panel.”
• Subra Suresh, president of Carnegie Mellon University and former director of the National Science Foundation, described four global trends that are reshaping how engineering talent is generated and deployed worldwide.
• John Montgomery, director of research at the US Naval Research Laboratory, outlined challenges that the US military faces in attracting top engineering talent—and some measures to address them.
• Alec Broers, who spent nearly 20 years doing research at IBM in the United States before returning to Britain and receiving a knightship for his service to higher education, drew contrasts between the United States and the United Kingdom to identify strengths and weaknesses in both countries.
• Marie Thursby, Regents’ Professor who holds the Hal and John Smith Chair in Entrepreneurship at the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology, explained some subtleties in the supply and demand figures for engineers and elucidated the importance of cross-disciplinary connections for engineers.
• William Banholzer, chief technology officer and executive vice president at the Dow Chemical Company, affirmed the need for engineers to make new discoveries practical and affordable.
• David Baggett, founder and head of Arcode Corporation, made the case for identifying and nurturing the elusive “ten-x” programmer—the individual who, by producing an order of magnitude more code than an average programmer, can propel companies to success.
One remarkable aspect of the panel was its range of perspectives. It encompassed the public and private sectors, US- and foreign-based firms, big companies and small. Yet all six speakers agreed that the creation and wise use of talent is the greatest opportunity and challenge facing engineering today. Their suggestions and recommendations constitute an agenda for action.
Dan Mote, President
National Academy of Engineering