Is there a shortage of engineers and engineering students in America? What does it mean for the engineering workforce?

There is a rising concern among many companies that there may be declining numbers of engineering students and engineering talent due to a general lack of interest in this field in the USA. This wasn’t helped recently by a statement made by Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel and an active member of President Obama’s “Council on Jobs and Competitiveness”, in which he said, ““A chronic shortage of engineering students threatens America’s role as the world’s leading innovator and continues to impede our nation’s fragile economic recovery.” Meanwhile, the President himself advised in his American Jobs Act speech that long term job creation is expected to come from the engineering sector. This has sent many universities into overdrive, as they work to promote engineering programs to educate the next generation of engineer greats.

But is there really a shortage of engineering candidates and engineering students in America? If so, how is this impacting the engineering workforce? The answers are somewhat confusing.

A Fox News report recently advised that technical colleges, like North Carolina’s A&T State University, are trying to get more engineering students to enroll and learn about the promises of a career in engineering. By getting students excited about the benefits of working in engineering, they hope to be the catalyst for creating millions more job in the engineering and manufacturing sector—industries that had suffered the most during the recent recession. Engineers benefit all industries across the board, so it only makes sense that we need to promote this as a viable career option in order to improve our nation’s economy.

Georgia Tech’s Dean, Gary S. May, wrote in a recent article that the US is lacking in the push to get students to learn critical topic areas, science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM), which puts us behind other nations like China and India who place emphasis on these engineering basics. This fact alone puts us at a serious disadvantage, and reduces the numbers of American engineers who will be ready to face the challenges of developing the next generation of technological advances. He further went on to state that, “If we want to train 10,000 engineers per year, we need high standards, smart role models, and excellent teachers and resources for success.”

Others say that there aren’t actually shortages in engineers in the USA, such as a 2005 Duke University study that revealed China and India may not be outputting more engineers than the USA after all. Current statistics say that because of China and India’s emphasis on STEM subjects and government funded engineering programs, that these nations are producing 350,000 (India) and 600,000 (China) engineers annually, while the US is producing 70,000 per year. While this is hard to prove, due to the number of engineers outsourced to other countries, it is clear that engineering is going to continue to be a career field that is increasingly in need of quality engineering candidates.

For companies faced with shortages of eligible engineering candidates there are some long term and shot term solutions. One is actively supporting local technical colleges to educate the next generation of engineering talent, then providing incentive-rich, recruitment efforts for new grads. Two, is reaching out to engineering staffing companies, like Venteon, to bring on quality engineers who are experienced in specific areas. Engineering and the quest for great engineering talent will continue to be the focus as the USA recovers, so it’s a good strategy to come up with a recruitment plan now.

Photo Credit: Ambro /

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