St Patrick and the Shortage of Engineers

So today I dug out that green tie that marks the approach of St Paddy's Day and all that that entails.  St Patrick, lest you forget, is also the patron saint of engineers, and having now got past the 7th chapter of Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat" maybe it's time for another rumination on the other problem that faces the US and Western Europe as we start to bounce along the plateau of peak oil.

If you are going to rely on technology to solve the problems of running short on various fuels, as they are currently produced, then you need certain folk (engineers, scientists and technologists), who understand the current ways of producing those fuels, to come up with that technology. It is likely that some of the new advances will come from "thinking outside the box", but generally you need to know what's inside the box first.  The problems that we have are several-fold, but let me hit just a couple, the current lack of students, and the growing shortage of faculty to teach them. (And while I write largely about the United States, much of this also applies to Western Europe.)

To preface the discussion let me quote Friedman:
And it is our ability to constantly innovate new products, services and companies that has been the source of America's horn of plenty and steadily widening middle class for the last two centuries.  . . . .The executives, the department heads, the sales force and the senior researchers are all located in the cities where the innovation happened. And their jobs create more jobs.  The shrinking of the pool of young people with the knowledge skills to innovate won't shrink our standard of living overnight.  It will be felt only in fifteen to twenty years, when we discover we have a critical shortage of scientists and engineers capable of doing innovation or even just high-value-added technology work.  Then it won't be a quiet crisis anymore, said Jackson (President of Rennselaer Polytechnic) "it will be the real McCoy."
He gives some numbers
It (the National Science Board) said that of the 2.8 million first university degrees in science and engineering granted worldwide in 2003, 1.2 million were earned by Asian students in Asian universities, 830,000 were granted in Europe and 400,000 in the United States.  . . . Science and engineering degrees now represent 60% of all bachelors degrees earned in China, 33% in South Korea and 41% in Taiwan. By contrast the percentage of those taking a bachelor's degree in science and engineering in the United States remains at roughly 31%. Factoring out the science degrees, the number of Americans who graduate with just engineering degrees is 5%, compared to 25% in Russia and 46% in China.
I have mentioned this topic before several times , but in the past mainly from the point that we will not have enough engineers to run the operations that we will be needed.  However it is in regard to the innovation issue that there is perhaps more reason for concern.

Universities have, over the past decade or so, been closing departments that teach in the energy production disciplines.  Enrollments were down, there was not a great deal of external research funding available, the programs were very expensive and the faculty were ageing and retiring.  They could take those positions and move them over into Management (to pick just one target) where there was a greater demand for students, the programs were cheaper to run, there were faculty available and there was a demand for the product.   Well now enrollments are rising rapidly in the energy production departments (mining, petroleum, nuclear, geological engineering for examples) and oops! Where are the faculty to come from?

It used to be, back when my hair was a different color, that when the US fell short, it could go pirate faculty from Europe (that's partly why I am here) but Europe cut way back over the past decade and more, so that supply is gone.  And as Friedman points out Asia is increasingly interested in keeping its brightest at home. Universities, as a general rule, do not pay quite as well as industry, and in energy at the moment that is more than usually true even at entry positions, further up the ranks it becomes an almost embarrassing comparison.  It is likely, therefore, that faculty shortages will continue.  This has two short-term consequences.

Higher teaching demands are going to make less time available for the faculty to make those innovations that are needed to help solve our supply problem (and yes there are some answers), but this also has a hidden cost.  Because for junior faculty to remain at university they have to prove that they are research productive.  Which means they have to find resources to fund the work that they can do.  Historically that funding came from the US Bureau of Mines (the one Federal Agency that was closed and done away with) or the Department of Energy.  Unfortunately as was noted DOE budgets are being cut all across the Energy field, despite Presidential promises to the contrary.  So where can  the faculty find the funding to develop these new ideas into solutions that have a chance of succeeding?  Good question ?  And without it, our colleagues will sadly deny tenure and another engineer will head back into industry.

This is not a hugely expensive problem.  If we consider, for example, that there are 13 mining schools, and each has 1 junior faculty member, and they could do meaningful research for $100,000, then we are talking about $1.3 million a year as an investment.  (I hasten to add that this is not my idea, but that of Mike Karmis at Virginia Tech).  Expand it to all the energy programs and you would still be at less than $5 million.

Will it happen ?  Well see one of the things one does at St Paddy's celebrations is to sit around and gloomily stare into a pint of ale and bemoan the tragedies of life.  And here I have given you a start - you've still got a week to mediate, and have another beer, and then  . . . .

Don't worry, we'll just import them from India, China, etc.

When I was in college, they put out an April Fool's issue of the school newspaper, which included an announcement that the administration was considering offering Thermodynamics classes in English, as well as the traditional Chinese and Urdu.

I KNEW thermo was not in English!  Now, can someone please explain entropy???

(Just kidding, I call my 8 month old Disentropy.  However, I am the only one who gets the joke around here.)

Could this just be a result of the maturity of the North American economy? That would be consistent with the even smaller number of engineers graduating from Europe.

What I mean is that once an economy's growth slows, it seems that the need for engineers would diminish. China is going like gangbusters. Hence the focus on engineering and science.

While there might be some reduction from a slowing in growth, there is a certain floor level below which you cannot go without seeing infrastructure begin to crumble away. Ooops! I guess we already went past that point, didn't we? ;)
Could this just be a result of the maturity of the North American economy?

Normal capitolism, yes.

That would be consistent with the even smaller number of engineers graduating from Europe.

Why SHOULD someone who has brains and ability in applying those brains any way they wish go into a carreer track when other carrier tracks:

  1. get a %age of sales  (salespeople)
  2. Have TV shows about them  (lawyers)
  3. Recieve more pay, enough that you have Congress-Critters and a President call them overpaid (lawyers) or Warren Buffet calles them overpaid (MBAs as CEO)
  4. Most comapnies have tracks where MBA's and salesman can advance in title and pay, but others can not.

In a land where everyone feels they are a superstar, why would they want to limit themselfes income wise by being an engineer?

What I mean is that once an economy's growth slows, it seems that the need for engineers would diminish

When an economy produces nothing but deritive works, of course you don't need engineers.  Look at how well Hollywood and Disney does w/o engineers!  

Sadly, sooner or later the dollar hard landing will come. To everyone that still believe that US can survive as a thecnology super-power importing chinese and indians scientists, engineers and thecnologists be warned that when the dollar value goes to sh*t all these Very Smart Asians will return to Asia.
There's more bad news.  No engineer really knows how to do anything, or what, until s/he's had 5 years experience minimum, no matter what language they speak. 10 is much better.  1983 flushed out most oil related engineers.  Those that were still left got out 8 years ago.  Nuclear; there's one or two in the US Navy and Russian Navy and probably a couple in France, but generally the whole world's quite a bit short on experienced engineers these days.  

I just found one trying to put a rechargable battery bank in the same box as a 10 kVA power supply and put that box in the control room.  I don't think this new world's gonna' be an easy place to live in.  But, I'm sure the accountants and lawyers will smooth it out for those that are left.

Maybe when the economy tanks all those retired, experienced engineers will come back to work.
Some already have come back to teach (particularly in Distance Ed types of classes), but getting them out in the field for research is much less likely to happen.
Now, sure.  Wait until their pensions and investments are "Enronized."
Mine's not $ and its on Treasure Island far far far away in never never land, which is about as safe as I can get it for now, but I'm even thinking of exchanging that for a Gold Dinar account, but that would be too close to Iran just yet.
The other thing is that engineering in the US is not immune to GLOBALIZATION.  The jobs are moving to Romania, Hungary ....  Drawings are made in India during the night and transferred in the morning to project offices in the States.  Let's face it. Only the CEO/lawyers, tax accounts, law enforcement and lobyists will survive globalization.  
Engineers, and others too, can become obsolete fairly quickly and thus are unable to reenter a technical job.

As a senior I've had to change careers several times.

What is bad is having to discard lots of knowledge you worked hard to learn [like the IBM 360 assembler programming]then having to devote time to learn new stuff.

I just read

Iran War Warning - Thursday, March 09, 2006 @ 1:35:28 AM

In the nuke confrontation, Iran is indifferent to the UN sanctions because it already is a nuclear armed power and is eager to demonstrate its fierceness in confrontation or in a strike-counterstrike scenario.

Iran wants oil at $80 to $100 per barrel. At the same time it is hurting the dollar by selling oil at a discount on a bourse in Tehran that accepts Euros, not dollars, for oil. Iran is cocky, apocalyptic, resolute, cunning, disciplined, unafraid of martydom. It will not climb down from the fight. It will challenge the U.S. with words and deeds; it will not surrender.

Consider this a war warning. Not weeks, not months, no certain timetable, at a time of Iran's choosing.


We've even had to make a career switch into law!

Our legal project visibility links are related to Iran:

Selling at a discount may be the part that could really undermine the USD.  I often get the feeling lately that Mideast instability is exactly what the US wants, in order to keep the price of oil up.... know what I mean?  ... I mean that EVERYBODY in Washington can't be as stupid as I think they are.  There has to be some continuous thread underneath all of this.
Wait, wait wait.

First I thought the bourse is opening on March, 16th.
Second it is ridiculous to think that selling with discount of your own oil will hurt the dollar significantly. The bourse would be a threat only if it would offer market to other players, wanting to sell oil in euros.
Third I did not know that Iran is attacking USA... sounds absurd to me. They may be provoking the hawks here to go in the trap of attacking them, but this is a whole other deal.

I think there is a whole bunch of people trying to present Iranians as suicidal idiots, ready to die until the last person, in order our gas to be 10$. I don't buy that.

This phenomenon is widespread throughout the
western world and applies to a who range of
skills that will be much-needed in post peak

We should note that many British universities
are actually closing down Engineering, Chemistry,
Physics etc. departments because such subjects
require laboratories [which cost money to run].

Here in New Zealand, has been a huge upsurge in
numbers of students opting for hotel management,
catering, business studies, economics,
media studies.....
a whole raft of subjects that will be
essentially useless in less than a decade,
perhaps as little as 5 years from now, if the
projections concerning oil supply hold true.

When I have pointed out that the ability to
practice medicine and produce food will be in
crucial in the future, and that there is
unlikely to be employment for another 50,000
hotel managers, the majority have just smiled
pleasantly and gone off to enroll for one of
the multitude of courses predicated on the
delusion that economic growth will continue
forever, that there is no such thing as resouce
depletion and global warming is something for
distant generations to think about.

Education is now essentially a business and
follows the same business as usual dogma that
prevails throughout society.

The richer nations will probably be able to
rely on a continuing flow of trained migrants
from overcrowded and politically unstable
nations to keep the infrastructure and hospitals
functioning, as we head through the bumpy
plateau into decline.  

I agree. We need engineers to back us out of the technological cul de sac known as western civilisation. We are ruining the planet with our technological "advancements," and we need engineers who can devolve our cheap energy dependent technology towards a more sustainable paradigm. We not only need more engineers, but differently educated engineers who will deal with the planetary system holistically instead of myopically. We need engineers who do not come up with patently idiotic temporary fixes based on cheap energy or the continuation of a dead-end technological culture. We do not need fixes that need fixes that need fixes that consume energy to repair a natural system that never needed fixing in the first place.

If we were truly as brilliant as we often claim, we would lead the world in the graduation of engineers who were trained to head us in the right direction. Then we would be ahead of the rest of the world. Then they would look to us for original ideas that are actually fixed in reality, that actually lead to a POSITIVE technology feedback loop, instead of our current NEGATIVE technology feedback loop.

It is time to admit the US is like an ignorant drunk having an argument with an enormous genius. Too proud to admit error, the drunk continues on his dangerous path, taking verbal potshots at the seven foot tall black-belt wearing genius who does not care if the idiot lives or dies. Either we have a small epiphany and realize that continuing this line of action will probably get us killed or seriously injured, or we realize that there may be an alternative. Just admit the US lost its way some miles back and it needs new directions. It is not enough to simply try and repair a system that is deeply flawed at its deepest levels. We need to retrace our steps and reset the system so it works with nature in an intuituve dance of action and reaction.

I love metaphor soup.

If we started paying scientists and engineers more than financial analysts or other MBA types we'd have a line for science degrees out the door.  As it is, why would the best and brightest study science and engineering when they can make so much more money with an MBA?  Ironically, it is those very MBAs who are making the decisions that they can just hire Indians and Asians on the cheap which is causing the shortage in the US in the first place.
That is it exactly.  Students are just following the money.

Kiyosaki covers this in Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  In the '60s, every mother wanted her daughter to marry a doctor, because that was the ticket to the good life.  

That is no longer the case.  Doctors are now just like any other wage slaves, squeezed by HMOs and other changes in the market.  The way to riches is now an MBA, not an MD.

They're notjust following the money. Science and engineering courses are hard, and you usually need more of them to graduate. I spent my career as an engineer, but would not encourage my daughters to a similar career path, even if they had the inclination, which they do not.

But the money certainly does make a difference. I have heard many times over many years that the us needs more engineers and fewer lawyers. The marketplace disagrees, routinely compensating easier careers more than engineering ones, both in dollars and prestige. We can, and do, hire foreign born engineers (rather than lawyers), which reduces the demand and pay for those born here. I personally know a us born, young physics grad from USC, having difficulty finding work. Neither the governmnet or private industry sees any shortage of engineers and scientists - when they do, the salaries will reflect it.

Yeah, but when I was in grad school, I thought all that business stuff was boring.  Toxic, really - I couldn't stay awake through discussions of business, and the thought of actually having to slog through an MBA program wasn't something that I really wanted to contemplate.

I have heard some say that law is the same.  Deadly dull for the most part - people got in it for the money.  I have run into some lawyers who absolutely hate what they are doing..

The ones who are only chasing the money tend to be the weakest links anyways.  They are the ones with no love of the subject, and they may or may not have any natural aptitude for the subject.  In my experience, they tend to screw up a lot and simply make work for others who do have more experience.

The problem with science and engineering is that there is no guarantee of being able to have a career without getting laid off and forcibly retrained as something else.  Even before outsourcing, the market for aeronautical engineers tended to be cyclical and depended upon the space program or how Boing was doing.  You have already mentioned the problems with having careers in the energy fields.

The ones who are only chasing the money tend to be the weakest links anyways.  They are the ones with no love of the subject, and they may or may not have any natural aptitude for the subject.

That's why the first thing they learn out of school is how to put the blame on somebody else.


Pay them more.  In India, an engineering degree is a way out of poverty, whereas in the U.S. it is a way in.

When we really need more engineers, the price for them will go up.  A half decade or so later, we'll have them.

Also, we need to pay engineering profs a helluva lot more. Engineering is a challenging discipline, and whereas we have three times (at least) the number of English, sociology, psychology, history, and political science profs that we need (and about twice as many econ Ph.D.s as needed), the people we need to staff the engineering departments are just not there.

At the college where I taught, typical number of qualified and overqualified people applying for a position in English or Poli Sci--200 to 300. Typical number of qualified applicants for a position open in engineering technology--Zero.

The M.B.A. degree, which I earned back in 1965, when it meant something, is now just a piece of paper that allegedly certifies that you can maybe do bookkeeping and simple financial ratios. The universities are grinding them out like sausages, because there are far far too many people with A.B. degrees in business (an easy major), and in an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaf, it now seems as if to get an entry level job the M.B.A. stands about where a high school diploma did in 1950. While I'm on a rant about MBAs, look at all those Harvard MBAs who created Enron and others who eagerly encourged our biggest banks to lend tens of billions of dollars to South American countries that will never be paid back.

This unending escalation of credentialism creates jobs for otherwise unemployable professors, but all that most college degrees certify (notable exceptions being math-heavy areas such as engineering) is that you are not utterly lazy nor do you have an I.Q. much below Forrest Gump's, and you probably spend less than a third of your time in a drug-induced stupor.

Thank you, I feel much better now;-)

Electrical, mechanical and nuclear engineering are some of the toughest career pathes on the planet.  Given the amount of social respect an engineer garners (somewhere between a garbage collector and a grade school teacher) plus the sure knowledge that M.B.A.'s are going to screw up nine of ten projects (no offense intended, Don) - why bother?

I worked at Tektronix for a few years.  Not one project I worked on came to market.  It was very discouraging and the problems weren't in the engineering (or so I say. wink wink).  And Tektronix had a reputation at the time of being a company run by engineers.

I'd have a hard time explaining to anyone why they should enter an engineering path at this time.  Not much money.  No respect and little job satisfaction.  As soon as you develop something the project will get shipped off to India.

That's not to say we don't need engineers.  Up in Prudhoe Bay the men need whores but that doesn't mean I'd tell my daughter it was a wise career choice.

The present management fad is to consider both design and manufacture as grunt work to be farmed out to "low cost countries".  The old concepts of building the capabilities of your organization, and taking simple materials and "adding value" are gone.  They've been replaced by the concept that the thing of real value is the "intellectual property" of an organization.  But too often, what passes for intellectual property is the sales, marketing, and advertising ideas.  

Cooperate management spends all their time in the air, traveling from meeting to meeting, where they show each other PowerPoints made of recycled slides.  Graphs that go from the lower left to the upper right, often without labels.  Bubble Charts!  What crap.  The emphasis is all on maximizing short-term profit, and on making the boss look good.  No development program can be justified unless it pays back in a year.  

Once we've built up the capabilities of the companies in India or wherever in design and manufacturing, we'll find they have damn good ideas of their own, and we'll end up just selling their stuff - if we're even needed at all.

I seriously doubt I'll be doing engineering much longer.  I don't really know what I'll do - there isn't much I cannot fix if I'm determined to, and if I can find the time I hope to get into ironworking/blacksmithing.  It's no way to make a living now, but once I'm out of work, and have given up the health insurance and 401k, don't have to commute, sell off the car we still pay on, forget about sending kids to collage, and cut all other costs, then it might be viable.  At least if I can combine it with gardening.

But the question is - after 5 or 10 years of that, would I be any use as an engineer anymore?  I doubt it.  At least it would be very difficult.  While there is an element of engineering in all of the projects I do, I would be out of date on all the tools, and all the components, etc.  And I wonder if I would even want to anymore.  Beyond that, good design requires a team (even if small) that works together well, and is greater than the sum of its parts.  It takes time, effort, and good luck to put that together.  And once torn apart, it is lost.  

In terms of advising my own four children on college majors and careers, I gave them two pieces of advice, which (surprisingly:-) they took:
1. Follow your bliss. In other words, go where your passion is.
2. Get as many credentials and proficiencies as you possibly can.

All my children are doing well in their careers, except for the one who chose the noblest profession, teaching. Graduating with top honors from a top college and with outstanding recommendations from her internship supervisors, she has never had a full-time job teaching after more than ten years of seeking one. Why? For practice, God made an idiot. Then, He made a school board. Or, to be more precise, if you want to get hired you better have an uncle on the school board. Some of my very worst (stupid, lazy and dishonest) students have gone on to become public-school teachers--because of who they were related to.

We need to get the very best people into teaching and into engineering and the hard sciences.

Alternatively, from a self-interested perspective one can do well as a golf or tennis pro at an upscale country club. All those bored trophy wives of the lawyers etc. need to be entertained . . . yessss. There are still a few good jobs. Bartending at a five-star hotel or being a maitre d'hotel can be very lucrative. I think diesel mechanics are doing well and will continue to do so. Electrical power generating plants will need engineers to replace the ones that retire. Everybody flushes, and so I imagine the demand for sanitary engineers will continue at a steady level.

A half decade!? Do you know how many years of investment in education are needed to produce quality results? I'd say 20 years as a minimum.
At 14 you can major in socializing (girls) or math, writing, reading, etc. So at 18 you can go to college and work another 4 years to get a bachelor's degree. Then you need 2 years to be worth something more than to be the guy that fills in the blanks, colors inside the line, dots the is and crosses the ts.
So it's ten years. Socializing is easier and pay better.
When we really need more engineers, the price for them will go up.  A half decade or so later, we'll have them.

Maybe in the past, this would have been true.  Will it be true in the post-carbon age?  I doubt it.

Will anyone's salary go up?  Companies will not be hiring or giving out raises when the economy tips into recession...or worse.  If the government weren't drowning in red ink, they might launch a "man on the moon" project for energy.  But they are drowning in red ink, and won't get any better post-peak.  They'll have a lot of other things to spend their money on, like relocating New Orleans residents, paying unemployment and food stamp benefits, and building up the military.

Tainter argues that technology, like any other human problem-solving method, eventually faces diminishing returns.  We have been getting less and less return for our investment in technology for several decades now, and I suspect peak oil will only accelerate it.  When the economy's bad and few jobs are available, how many families will pay $100,000 or more to send their kid to college?  They will never make that up, especially when you consider the four (or more) years of lost wages the student will also be giving up.  Many bright, capable students are already being forced to forgo college because they can't afford it.  

I haven't read Friedman's book--reading his columns is about as much as I can take--but here he is right and I'm glad you continue to bring this up, HO.

We're past Peak Energy Expertise (at least in the US and Western Europe).

But I would like to throw in the idea that this is yet another symptom of the general decline of the US as a culture and world power. The other symptoms are too numerous to list -- huge trade deficit, no savings, huge budget deficit, great disparity in the distribution of the wealth, corporate malfeasance, a "bought and payed for" congress, questionable elections, flat or decreasing income for most Americans, unaffordable health care, growing illiteracy, ... and on and on.

Loss of necessary expertise in crucial industries just joins this list. I just feel that the bigger context should be considered. An MBA is what is valued where you manipulate numbers and paper assets. An actual expert in the field finding and recovering ever more scare hydrocarbons is getting harder and harder to find. And as you note, there's nobody to get them started in school. It's really sad.

The US is not in decline. We are a power because of Marines, Halliburton, and the Colorado School of Mines. There is no decline in engineering in the US. We set the standards for engineers, like the Germans did before us.
If Halliburton is setting the standard for engineers we really are screwed.
I don't buy it.  American engineering does not "set the standards" these days.

It's Japanese engineering that most impresses me at the moment.  They really care about quality control.  It shows in even the little things.  Tighter seams on their cars, that make them look classier than American cars that cost more.  Blank CDs that are less likely to corrupt your data than those made in other countries.  DVDs that are much sharper, brighter, and crisper than their American counterparts.  

Moreover, Japanese products are designed with people in mind.  Take apart a Japanese item, and you'll see that it's designed so that it's not only easy to put together, it's almost impossible to put together wrong.  There will be maybe three screws that hold several different parts on, where a similar American item might have 13 different screws, all different sizes.

A Ford or GM engine is clearly assembled outside the car, then put inside with no thought of how the eventual owner will maintain the engine.  The oil filter is often impossible to reach, and the oil drips over the brake lines or fuel lines when you try to drain it.  Toyotas, OTOH, are designed to make it easy for the owner to change the oil and do other routine maintenance.

You misquoted me. I said,"We set the standards for engineers..." - not what you said. Or sound-bited me out of context

The Japanese engineering that I acknowledge is superior in many ways, is both the result of earlier American engineering and largely aimed at an American market, not to mention the fact that it exists solely because it was enabled by Americans  - The Marines to a large extent in this case - see Tarawa.

While you have good points, the issue with the car industry is largely one of the American market. Ford and GM engineers merely implemented a horribly stupid strategy handed to them by the MBA's.

The Japanese have certainly never produced more montrous vehicles than the Hummer, F150, Ram, Yukon, and Excursion then sold them for so little for so massive a profit. This task required competent engineers as well.

Your comments, while warranted, speak more to the end result of the engineering rather than the engineering itself. I certainly agree with your emotion, however.

From a strictly engineering standpoint of view, Germans build better cars than Japanese. But as with many things in life, there are many factors involved.

Is your name Lay? Sorry that's not fair. Is your name Ostrich? Get your head out of the sand! We are a nation of spoiled, self indulgent whiners who don't want to have to compete with those in Asia that have as much native intelligence but have much more motivation and desire. Wake up!
Sorry to bring you back to reality, but the U.S. is a power in science and technology because of VSA (Very Smart Asians) and some other smart foreigners. Check the Nobel Laureates, for example in physics over the past fifty years:
1. How many were born in the U.S.?
2. How many were educated in the U.S.?
The fact of the matter is that our public educational system is broken, and without tens of thousands of VSA, there is no way we could keep our standing.

By draining the best brains from Asia (and elsewhere), we benefit and they lose. Because living conditions are rapidly getting better for the well-to-do in India and China, the flow of VSA to the U.S. is diminishing. But if you go to Fremont, Calif., you may observe some interesting phenomena.

Oh, and about the Marines, no argument: But without the Navy to take them places and keep them supplied, the U.S. Marines can't do much.

Maybe its correct, but I have a hard time beleiving that there are engineering shortages.

I know a guy who works as a headhunter and has TONS of qualified engineers on his roster who cannot find work.  The corporations are laying them off in droves right now.  

Your comment shows a typical problem.  There are no "generic" engineers.  Engineers actually DO something so they need training in specific disciplines.  Your comment is so typical and so discouraging.  Sure, there are lots of SOFTWARE engineers (if by some stretch one can consider that a true engineering discipline ).   Don't get up in arms all you bit twiddlers.  That's my schtick too.  It's just that from what I've seen of credentialed software engineers I'd rather take a talented high school hacker than a run of the mill computer engineering graduate any day of the week if given the choice.

I strongly doubt that there is an excess of nuclear, mechanical, electrical or electronic engineers.

Most of those "engineers" you refer too are probably the stale backwash from the internet crash five years ago.  Anyone who could design a web page fancied himself a software engineer.

Wohoo! 5 years ago I started thinking about switching from the "internet" business to the "energy" businnes, 3 years ago I took a long leave from my old job to study engineering after pondering the need to renew electricity infrastructure in Sweden during the next 20 years. Peak Oil then became icing on the cake, unfortunately its a too much icing and may ruin the cake.

Now I only need to figure out how to get intresting employers to notice me and how to prove that I got an exeptionally wide knowledge and an ability to connect A with Q.

One other factor in all this is that the Department of Energy is more in the buisness of nuclear weapons that in finding replacements for oil.  I once was in a DOE funded line of work - interital confinement fusion - that might play lip service to fusion as an energy source, but really is just another way to funnel tax dollars to defense research.  Not surprisingly, this can be a big turn-off to a lot of young idealistic people that want to do something worthwhile with their lives.  If you took the weapons related programs out of DOE there wouldn't be much left.  
So, Saint Patrick is the patron saint of engineers, eh.  And all these years I thought that we engineers were a 'God forsaken' profession. Waddya know!

As usual, Tom Friedman has his pucker where his head should be!  He appears to know little or nothing about engineering. Only a very small percentage of engineering has anything remotely to do with innovation or being on 'the cutting edge of technology' (a term I absolutely can't stand).

In fact, most of the things that engineers do during the course of a normal day has little to do with actual engineering. The vast majority of engineers are involved in very mundane projects that entail the proper selection of off-the-shelf equipment and components to be used in a very tried-and-true design. Much of their job is to make sure that things are the right size, can do what they're supposed to, fit where they are supposed to go, and that things don't get screwed up.   A lot of it is glorified bookkeeping and expediting, when you get right down to it. Most engineering is not fun and in fact can be quite tedious.

Engineering has also become more standardized and routine. Which is one reason why it is a human commodity that you buy by the pound. This is why you are seeing more and more low level engineering either being outsourced or being done by young Indians, Chinese, etc. here on a work visa.

To excell at engineering per se is to be a financially unsuccessful engineer. Engineers succeed financially by getting out of straight engineering and going into either sales or management. Though it is changing, many CEOs of major manufacturing companies had an engineering background. Now the MBAs and lawyers have displaced much of that.

Contrary to Tom Friedman's Golly-Gee outlook, I for one see a very bleak outlook for engineers .....correction American engineers. Rather than an upcoming shortage of engineers, I think we actually have a glut. Pretty soon there won't be much for them to do.

As an engineer myself, I could not in good conscious recommend engineering to a high school senior trying to decide what field to go into.  Come to think of it, I'd have a hard time recommending anything, as I think the future as far as jobs goes is a total crap shoot with loaded dice.  

Man, posting this has depressed the hell out of me!

Any job that can be outsourced will be outsourced. My son is a chef and a fly fishing guide. So, ha, let's see them try to send HIS job overseas! Watch for him on the outdoor channel and the cooking channel. There are still lots of pleasant, fun ways to make it in this world.
I once thought this about my job. The thing is, outsourcing enough other jobs can drastically reduce the demand for ones that can't be outsourced. When nearly everyone is broke there won't be a lot of demand for chefs or fishing guides. In addition, the rich dudes will probably think it a lot safer to dine and fish in other countries. There is also the fact that cheffing (yeah I think there's a good chance I just made up a word) is subject to immigrant competition. I'm of the opinion that none of us are safe, pay your money and take your chances.
"I think we actually have a glut"

Yep.  Engineering jobs require manufacturing.  US policy over the last 30 years has destroyed the manufacturing base of this country.  Since other countries are smart enough to block Americans from working in their country, we are pretty much screwed.

As a fellow engineer I'd have to agree with this.  I entered engineering in college because twenty years ago my parents believed nonsensical Friedman-like notions about engineering shortages and forced my hand (I wanted to be a lawyer).  It's not exactly a path that has ruined my life, but let's just say that I don't talk to my parents anymore.
Well, your parents were right to the degree that an engineering shortage will eventually doom any modern technological nation.  If anyone figures out the answer to peak oil it will be the people actually attempting to build alternatives.  What the guys running U.S. corporations (who are now the same guys running the government) are assuming is that they can buy the answer after someone else does the work.  May not be true this time.
Possibly true... but it's a case of putting the common good directly over that of the individual.  When a choice is clearly not in the interests of the individual but (may) help society as a whole, you're a chump to individually choose that.  This is what most American students intuit.  This sort of issue can also be seen in things like vehicle choice (if I drive an SUV, it may not be good for society, but it sure is for me -- so long as I can afford the gas) and in driving behavior (if I'm a polite driver but no one else is, I lose; however, if everyone were polite, we'd all be better off).
Also, count me in the camp that doesn't really believe there's an 'answer' to peak oil unless problems that are more political (burgeoning population, for instance) are addressed.
An engineering degree might get you to Australia before the hammer comes down. You are still young enough to make their point system.
As one who has lived in both Australia and New Zealand, I find NZ a far far better place. This opinion is not unique to me; see for example what is one of the best bicycling books ever written, MILES FROM NOWHERE.
According to the New Zealand government web site, the native and pacific islander proportion of the birth rate is at one third and rapidly rising. The white and asian proportion is shrinking just as rapidly. New Zealand has a "California" policy of importing cheap working class labor and exporting anglos. In their case, to Australia. In the economically bad years a fourth of the high school graduation class will immigrate to Australia.
Sure, New Zealand will be a good place to be rich, but I want to live in a society where it is a good place to be middle class.
Read Jared Diamond's COLLAPSE for some very cogent analysis of why Australia is extremely vulnerable to ecocatastrophe.

Also, New Zealand beer is even better than Australia's very good beer. Whatever you do, in either country, do not criticize their beer; beer is central to their identities. Australians of working class origin frequently and openly drink on the job.

I agree with Joule, even though I am not an engineer. The empire does not really need ANY of the professions from the home population -- almost ALL of them can be had more cheaply elsewhere. Which means that what's left here will be doled out on the basis of connections and loyalty, not on the basis of competence. Can't see any of that yet, though, can we?

There is nothing new in any of this: ALL empires have operated this way. The closer to the end, the more things are turned over to the "barbarians".

I believe that these numbers are approximately right for 2003:

Number of US Petroleum Engineering Degrees Granted:  230

Number of US Law Degrees Granted:  43,000

I thought it was 430 , not 230 but it hardly dents the story. We here in Britain managed 11000 Psychology Graduates last year, so I suppose we will at least have somebody to whine to when the SHTF.
After reading this thread I have no doubt that there will be plenty of people available to whine before and after the SHTF.
What everybody upthread has said I agree with.  We don't need more engineers, the market already thinks there are too many.  And we know the market is always right.  The U.S. will have to survive on the skills of lawyers and MBAs.
right on.

go pro se

The U.S. will have to survive on the skills of lawyers

res ipsa loquitor


I think you hit the nail on the head.  Engineers don't do engineering anymore.  I mean, some of us can, but mostly we dont have to.  You don't design a road... you cad it to whatever standard the city, county or whatever requires... no design required.  And if you encounter a situation that requires a greater design standard than the generic "code" requires, some bean counter or the developer will tell you to change it or you get fired.  All because the "code" doesn't require it. So what has technology done for engineers... it's made us a lot dumber.  Designs are spit out by computer programs and reviewed by non engineers who dont know shit.  Try to innovate on a federal or state project and see what they say.  "We dont do things that way.  stick to the specs"  It's shit.  Technology may do many good things but in engineering, its made many of us stupid and allowed non-engineer government types or bean counters to tell us what to design and how to do it. So why would anybody be an engineer today.  You get all the stress, not much pay, and all the blame if anything goes wrong.  Sorry for the rant but its a sore subject with me.... and believe it or not, I love engineering.

So whats going to happen after peak is accepted and society has to change?  Hopefully the real engineers among us will be allowed to step outside the regulatory box and begin to find some solutions.  It will most likely be too little too late but you never know unless you try.  

Thomas -

Amen to that!

The engineer of even 20 to 30 years ago was a much different animal than the engineer of today. Today there is far less feel for the physical nature of the things that get designed and built. As you quite correctly pointed out, the computer, with its canned programs, has removed a great deal of the 'feel' one gets when one as to laboriously crank out complex calculations and actually do engineering drawing and graphics. I come from the slide rule era (class of '67), and I must say that even the mediocre students in my class were quite versatile and pretty well qualified to actually design and build real things. Hell, I know young PhD engineers who wouldn't dream of changing the fan belt on their car, and probably wouldn't know how to if they bothered trying.  

I take some comfort in the fact that when and if the sci-fi scenario of a post-
Peak stone age descends upon us, I will be able to oil up the old slide rule, grab an armful of dusty old engineering handbooks and reference material and walk boldly into the sun to start the grim task of building a new world. This I will do while all these software 'engineers' occupy themselves by playing frisbee with the hard drives of their now totally useless computers.

(Just the idle fantasy of a long-obsolete engineer who is feeling less and less comfortable with what he's seen of the 21st Century thus far. Surely a sign of old-fartism creeping up.)  

I don't think it's all to be blamed on the tools - and computors are just tools.  Hey, I did circuit board layouts with tape, mylar, and Xacto knives.  It sucked.  Further, engineering is a broad discipline - my Dad the engineering professor is not completely helpless with a tool, but he's a math guy, and not a hands-on guy. I'm the opposite, in that I'll do the damn math when I can't avoid it anymore, but I'd rather be building prototypes.  It takes all types.

One of the problems is that today too many people think they can get by with simulations, and get suckered into believing the results.  Usually they get burned by the BS in = BS out equation.

I had a slide rule once - it was kinda quaint.  Did you have to oil them?

I like this. It makes sense to me. I compare it with my own history and I can identify and be amused. When I look at the US today I clearly see the problem. We teach kids to be retarded.

When I was growing up my father would marvel at the wonders of HP calculators and every once in a while I would hear mention of a slide rule. I have always held a deep fascination with the tool. But nobody ever considered using them.

Yet look how long it took us to accept calculators or Palm-Pilots in the classroom?

C++ should be tought to every kid from the age of 6, just like all the other crap they teach them. God knows C++ is easier.

Why not? What is the reason? Move forward.

People think throwing your kid in a pool at the same age is progressive.

I don't mind them in the classroom to some extent, but you must be careful to teach the concepts, not the tool.  Before you get the answer from the slide rule, calculator, simulator, etc., you ought to have a pretty damn good idea about what that answer should be.  Unfortunately, the more complex the tool, the easier it is to be seduced into believing it.  I remember that clearly even from school, where people would type stuff into their calculators and write down whatever it told them - even if it didn't make any sense.  On the other hand, there is no sense in struggling through with difficult tools - that's not the important and creative part of engineering.

They don't even teach C++ in college any more.  They have dumbed that down too - they teach the kids Java instead.
If you want to see what happens when you let calculators into math class, just look here.

A calculator is a tool, but it's only a tool.  It's no substitute for either

  1. knowing what you're doing, or
  2. knowing when the machine is giving you bogus results.

The "calculator math" courses (I won't call them education) out there teach how to plug numbers into a particular brand and model of calculator.  No understanding of what you're doing, complete helplessness with anything else.  No way to solve new problems because you have no idea what is going on to solve the current one.

Calculators without understanding are a leap backward.

Oil? Not the bamboo Post Versalogs, at least in this neck of the woods (a full sized in my desk drawer for sentimental reasons and a pocket size on a shelf for display). The aluminum Picketts, perhaps. When the HP-35 came out in '72, it was really pricey for most engineering grad students. Now the $35 calculators my kids use in high school math classes are far more capable.

So which technology will have the lower life-cycle cost, all things considered?

$395, IIRC.  That put it out of the reach of every student at the time.
Engineers used to wear their slide rules with pride--as cowbows did their sixguns. I only had a couple of cheap ones (am not an engineer--got good with hand-cranked desk calculator, all mechanical) but the engineers taught me some fast-draw tricks that combined with some mental math tricks enable me to this day to compute cicrcles around most of the young whippersnappers. Also got used to using pencils with large erasers combined with old envelopes--and I still save envelopes.

Chalk is good for teaching too.

I think the "easy" technology of today encourages many to believe that technology can substitute for understanding and analysis and hard work. I found that in teaching accounting, students would reach for their handy dandy little calculators before thinking through the problem in many cases.

Also, if you painstakingly plot data by hand on graph paper, I have found that often you notice remarkable things--such as that the data have obviously been cooked.

Ah, on the subject wearing one's slide rule! Haven't thought about that in several decades.

All those K&E LogLog Decitrig slide rules that were standard issue to engineering students came in a leather carrying case with a loop that you could attach to your belt. However, the fashion etiquette during the time I attended engineering school (1963 -1967) dictated that under NO circumstances whatsoever - unless you were the most hopeless misfit/nerd - were you to actually wear your slide rule on your person!  NEVER! You always carried it along with your books. One such mega-nerd had this huge  20-inch slide rule (to get that extra decimal point in accuracy, you know) that he wore on his belt. He looked like a knight carrying a sword and took a merciless ribbing for it.

You are absolutely right about how calculators and canned software temps one to abuse data. One nice thing about tedious calculations is that it discourages the proliferation of meaningless analysis of meaningless data. If you have to work at generating a graph an table of data, you generally take it a bit more seriously and don't embark on such an effort unless it is really necessary.

Today it is all to easy to take three random data points and have your handy-dandy software generate any curve you so desire and then spew out a garbage can full of data calculated to the ninth decimal place. Then someone else takes that data, puts it on another piece of paper, and it then become TRUTH.

I remember when my dad ot an HP55.  It was amazing!  IIRC, the HP65 had little magnetic cards that fed in the side, and you could store programs on it.  I still use my HP11, had it for years and years.
I replaced an HP-21 with an HP-29c years ago.  I need to rebuild a couple of battery packs again.  Strangely, I never learned the 29c as well as I once knew the 21; when I got out of school, I had far less need for it.

Today I do most of my casual crunching using a little scientific calculator I wrote in C, or on my wristwatch.

OK, now you've done it - I too have a calculator wrist watch!  My wife never fails to laugh at it!  

The best thing about my old HP is the Engineering Units, where it shows exponential form with only powers that are multiples of 3 (kilo, mega, milli, micro, etc.).

Hey, I did circuit board layouts with tape, mylar, and Xacto knives.  It sucked.

You're bringing back memories of things I forgot I forgot. What was the name of that company that made the peel off sticky mylars for DIP-IC pads etc.? I guess the computer revolution really put them out of business.

It didn't all suck. There was a sense of accomplishment in cutting the mylar just right.

About 10 years ago Science magazine had a blurb that indicated less than 6% of high school graduates were prepared to begin a rigerous University engineering or science major. Less than 1% of black or latino students were considered qualified.  I am sure things have not improved in this regard.
After lots of lurking, this is my first post. I thought I would give my thoughts on my experiences in the Engineering job market in the US.
My degree is in Chemical Engineering. I graduated in May 2002 with honors, and I am now in my 3rd week with my 3rd company.

The first company was a zinc smelting operation that was in the stone ages from a knowledge and talent POV and is unlikely to survive (most smelting is now done overseas). It is a moderately high labor cost operation and isn't very competitive due to this coupled with their very poor management and technical skills. They have been losing about 8 million a year for the past few years.  The pay here was very poor; however, during the recession, there were not many opportunities. The company's technical employees were not very productive and their pay reflected that. This company provided virtually zero training to improve my skills; however, I did manage to do a lot through self study.

I was able to exit this black hole in March 04 and found my next job with a better company at a 30% raise and was doing more mechanical/metallurgical type work making Steel Cord for automotive tires.

I received a lot of good training and improved my skills a large degree at this company and successfully implemented numerous improvements with savings in the 100's of thousands of $/yr. However, the market went from being sold out to rapidly moving to East Europe and China (very high-labor production equipment and developing countries' quality is now similar to ours - 2 yrs ago China had terrible quality).

My plant just sent ¼ of our production capacity to plants in Slovakia and China in the 4th quarter of 2005. Thus, I started looking elsewhere again after seeing the writing on the wall.

Now, I am working for one of the top 3 Global Chemical companies making some very high end Polyamide films for which there is very little competition (my site is about 30% of global production). This stuff is very high margin, very difficult to produce, and sold out globally. I got a nice 23% raise in this transition and a promotion to Sr. Engineer. I will now have the opportunity to expand my skill set much further in this even better company.

I guess what I am getting at is that even though I have only been in the job market for a short time, I have already had to adjust to the changes in the global market twice. However, I certainly have not had difficulty finding a better job when I decide that it is time to bail. I just keep progressing to more difficult, higher margin industries for which I feel there should be some better long term job security.

I personally find this to be a good strategy since I keep moving in a direction that continues to expand my skill sets making me a more valuable commodity for industry. The more skills I acquire and the more productive I become, the better my salary and job opportunities shall be in the future.

Any shortage of engineering competition in the market only bodes well for my future opportunities (supply vs demand).  I certainly hope that this is my last company; however, who knows what the future will hold.

As a side note, at every company I have work at the maintenance personnel were typically making more money than the engineers after their overtime was factored in.

I have already met two maintenance people at my current job that made $108k and $121k last year with 800 and 1200 hours of OT respectively.

Even though most high school guidance consolers probably consider people who don't plan on attending a 4-yr college degree program social lepers, I find it humorous that they can be making 2-4 times what many 4-year degreed jobs will pay (journalism, underwater basket weaving, and etc).

Key. People that get the job done get paid. That's the way the world works. Very few people in history who were successful followed a different path than the one(s) you describe. Everybody wants to believe that part of the American Dream is to just get a decent degree, settle down, and retire - wrong. That was a fantasy spread to a large extent by our parents' experiences. It was and is an anomoly. American history is a different story. Life is hard. Don't kill yourself now. Wait until you've come to terms with the fact that you have simply been deceived by your TV.
F**k me. I jumped on you earlier because it seemed like you had your head in the sand. I apologize - I was wrong. We may disagree about the percentage of people in this country that understand economics (let's call it the creation of value to be used in trade for the acquisition of value) but I see you fully understand that as our challenge. I'm very pessimistic because so few people get it or if they do get it they aren't willing to do anything about it. Loved the TV comment. We got rid of ours when our kids were in grade school. And one of them starts at CSM next fall.
This strategy tends to work best for the young.  Eventually, they look at your resume, see all the different employers, and decide you probably won't stay with them, either. Or they decide you're too old, why not pay a kid less money to do the same job.
During this job change, I did have some people mention concern over my apparent job hopping; however, my first company was in Chapter 11. The second was sending equipment to China.

There are always mitigating reasons and if the hiring agent is sold on the candidates skills I believe they will allow themselves to accept said reasons even if they don't feel entirely certain about it.

Granted, if I am hunting for another job in 2 years, I would expect some pretty significant issues from this. However, I "think" I have found a company with which I can settle down. Time will tell.

The engineers in the energy and mining industries get to deal with boom and bust cycles.  When I started college most of the mining commodities were near their recent all time peaks.  By the time I graduated they had fallen to all time lows and the industry wasn't hiring.  Now that prices are back up companies are hiring again.

That is one of the problems that certain disciplines get to deal with.  While other disciplines generally have a more stable work environment where they don't have to deal with a boom/bust cycles.

People, please don't assume the dilbert role- pawn to stupid management.  Look around.  The world is full of things needing to be done. Be your own management.  Grab one and just go do it. All it takes is a few tons of blood, tears, toil and sweat. Don't work for the money, work for the result.

TOD is chockablock full of examples of things needing to be done, as well as some excellent examples of people who have done some of them. My own possibly myopic viewpoint is that, at least in the USA, energy and waste are almost one word.  We can fix that.  Let's do it.

Hi HO, a major concern indeed. Let me illustrate with my example.

I'm a researcher in a state University in a GIS group with about 12 other researchers. More than 90% of the time I'm working in order to get funding for research; this is mainly obtained through projects and partnerships with other state institutions. So I mainly research late night at home. Some of the other researchers spend full time in raising funds.

This year I will have 3 articles published, one next week, one in July and one in September. I don't have any hopes of doing more.

When I started my course, I had to pay something like 3€ for each year at college. During the last years liberals caught up with us and the fee shot up to 250€, in my last year it was almost 350€. Today it's close to 900€/year, and this is a state University. This is just the result of under-funding, each faculty gets its normal funds less the number of students times 900.

If I was finishing high-school today, there would by no chance for my family to have me in college.

One final comment before this thread runs its natural course and peters out.

From my previous two posts on this thread I probably come off like some sort of engineering Luddite. Actually, I refer to the slide rule more as a metaphor for the 'old school' engineers and engineering. Contrary to the impression I may have given, I actually haven't used my slide in anger in probably well over 25 years. However, I did just recently bring it out to show my wife's  20-year-old student teacher neice because she didn't even know what a slide rule was.(And she's a math major!)

No, I am not extolling the virtues of doing long tedious calculations by hand. The calculator and computer are indeed labor-saving devices, just like a chain saw is better than an axe. However, the point I was trying to make is that the ubiquity of engineering software and canned programs, etc. has to some extent removed the engineer from his subject and diminished his feel for the physical aspects of what he is doing.

 Engineering is a lot more different than science than probably a lot of non-technical people realize. There is a much greater visual and subjective component to engineering design than there is in most sciences. The old school engineers got more 'down and dirty' with their subject matter and thus had more of a craftsman's feel. However, there is no going back though.

Incidently, an excellent book on this general subject is "Engineering and the Mind's Eye", by Eugene S. Ferguson, a former professor of the history of technology and University of Delaware.

Regarding engineering jobs, I still think that the Dilbert model is highly accurate for engineers who work for large organizations. And I will repeat my previous assertion: the only way to really become a financially successful engineer is to stop doing engineering and get into either sales, management, or business. That is why many very capable engineers decide to get MBAs and become mediocre business types.

 Whereas a surgeon can make a fortune by continuing to remove organs his whole career, and whereas a lawyer can make a fortune by doing lawsuits his whole career, and engineer doing engineering his whole career will have a largely mediocre career.  

And let's face it, most modern engineering is just not fun. That's why I more or less got out of it when I entered the environmental field over 30 years ago.I have been involved in some very interesting technical projects but those have been very far and few between.  

The last time engineering was really fun was during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, when it was new and ripe for innovation and invention. There were actually a number of very famous engineers back then (Brunel, Erricson, Roebling, etc).  How many of you out there can name one famous engineer of today (not someone who happens to have an engineering degree, but a someone who actually IS an engineer)?  

How many of you out there can name one famous engineer of today

Linus Torvalds

"To everything, there is a season."

Engineering can a lot of fun but it's based on hard work.  When there is nothing to be created, engineering can be dull since it becomes maintenance.  That's why a growing economy or one facing challenges needs engineers while an economy busy milking its cash cows does not.

Personally, I'm delighted that we're facing energy challenges again.  I've just come back from a job interview with a team designing the world's most powerful nuclear power plant.  The excitement is there and I'm stoked to have been considered for a management spot.

Would I recommend engineering as a career choice?  Not for most people but if the passion is there, yes.

As to slide rule lubricants (metal only), use a touch of what the Germans call "Weinerschlider" or what Americans call Vaseline.

Whitehall -

On the lubrication of slide rules:

'Wienerschlider' (what a great German word!) may be good for metal slide rules but ist verboten for the more expensive laminated mahogany/composition ones like the K&E. For the latter, we used to use a little talcum powder on the runners.

 And for those really tough final exams I alway connected mine to the optional forced draft cooling system to keep it from burning up during a very rushed long string of calculations :-)  

By the time senior year rolled around we got to be pretty good with a slide rule, the mastery of which is a bit like learning a musical instrument. A while back I saw an old slide rule in an antique shop. It guess that says something about time passing.

This thread is long on "common knowledge" and very bitter former engineers, and short on people who actually work as engineers today because they actually like it. I have worked in the semiconductor industry for five years after receiving my BSEE degree in 2000. I have a collection of points below.

Starting pay for EE's right now is around 55k (although I haven't checked that for a few years now so that might have nudged up). For a four year degree that is pretty good - you're not going to beat that with many other four year degrees. With five years experience I now make 75k a year in a job that is not the highest paying in the EE world. I have a few friends my age who do chip design that make 6 figures. The "flatness" of engineering pay is true as others have mentioned - in this particular job my ceiling is probably 100k. I'd have to go into sales or management to get beyond that. Personally I'm fine with where I'm at - I live quite well on 75k a year.

On the social standing of engineers versus other professions: when I socialize with people in the business world, I usually get a high level of respect, with comments along the lines of "ah, an engineer - you actually understand technology and how to build things!" That is worth something to me. I don't know if other engineers are really getting no respect as a number of people here are saying or if that is just perception.

On the "inevitable" decline of America vs. China, India, Japan, etc: Americans with their streak of fatalism love to overlook the large problems facing the economies of any country in this world (and I'm not talking about the energy crisis). I'll talk about Japan only as I need to get back to work (ha). The company I work for is owned by a Japanese firm and we also sell to a few Japanese customers (which happens only because of the fact we're owned by a Japanese firm). Vs the US, the Japanese are FAR less willing to take business risks, do not promote on merit as well as in the US, hate doing business with anyone who is not Japanese, and are not quite as creative. Their financial sector has for years been saddled with poor performing loans going to obsolete companies who aren't allowed to go out of business because it isn't culturally acceptable for them to do so. None of these things bode well for the health of their economy. I think most American's understanding of Japanese vs. American engineering comes from the automotive industry, where Japan really does blow the US out of the water. At that superfical level, then, let's look at the portable consumer electronics market. Who did you buy your mp3 player from? Apple, an American company. When was the last time Sony put out a revolutionary product? Sony management is even more reactionary than US record companies, and are trying their best to force consumers back to where the world was in 1980. Obviously, that approach will fail.

Outsourcing: once salaries in India and China reach parity with the US, the flow of jobs will stop. This is inevitable in this world and unless you're an extreme nationalist it shouldn't bother you - why do we deserve it more than them? The middle class is on the decline overall around the world, but outsourcing and the forced control of labor movement benefitting the corporate world is only half the problem. The other half is simply that technology is replacing the need for many skills that previously afforded people a middle class lifestyle. If I remember correctly manufacturing employment in China is actually on a slow decline for this reason. If we want to stop the decline we're going to need a political revolution that calls into question most of the assumptions surrounding capitalism. Please don't get stuck blaming it all on outsourcing.

To those of you bemoaning the ubiquity of technology tools in the classroom and the office, you're only revealing your own obsolesence. Here is the reality: if you don't understand the theory and the tools, you're unemployed. If you want to design a 100 million gate processor on paper because by golly that's how it was done in the 60's, go right ahead.

On a personal note, I'd love to get into the alt energy industry: windmills, PV, whatever. I've found jobs at the NERL and GE Wind but had little luck. Any ideas for other places to look?

The impact of technology is amazing but also has it's unintended consequences. Recently I've encountered several old timer engineering professors who commented on the changes in student understanding of how things work. Early in their careers a lot of students had tinkered with simpler technology. Tuning a carburetor with a screwdriver by sound and smell. Replacing the tubes of a discrete component TV set. Programming Trash-80's in BASIC. Now the complexity of technology has reduced many students' experiences to the level of a black box. While people like Bill Gates programmed their high school's GE timeshare computer in BASIC (amazing what an infinite loop could cost on that system, local high school students learn digital rendering using high end graphics programs but few learn programming at any level. Few have seen a flashing cursor on a blank screen. Few have burned themselves with a soldering iron. In general, the lack of experience makes teaching harder.

T-squares, K&E drawing instruments and drafting boards - all engineering students used to have to buy a drafting kit (still use mine to layout household projects). No longer, I'll bet. Elbow drafting machines and the really smooth rail machines. Vellum pads with red covers. Mylar and Rapidograph pens. I suspect they are hard to find in engineering schools (or anywhere else) these days. That's much more sentimental nostalgia then bemoaning. I won't willingly go back to running Fortran data analysis programs on a CDC-6400 fed by card decks with a 24 hr turn around.

Yes! Fortran-IV on CDC 6400--way to go. I beat the 24 hr. turnaround time by bringing donuts to the guys who ran the thing, and they helped me debug my programs. I could get 2000 cards through four or five times some mornings, and so though my programming skills are (to put it politely) mediocre, I was able to get results about as good as those of the best students. When you have to punch your own cards, carry them around (being careful to avoid the 1,000 card pickup game), keep duplicate decks in separate buildings in case of fire . . . all that . . . then you begin to have some deep respect for data.

Also, another scary thing is that navigators no longer know how to navigate. In the olden days we used traditional instruments, paper charts, and in sea navigation some instruments not too different from those of 200 years ago. We never took our position for granted and always had a bunch of alternate techniques to get a fix or estimate our velocity over the ground. In air navigation, the old 1950s and 1960s techniques were easier than sea navigation, but we still used slide rules (circular plotters) knee boards with charts attached, pencils with functioning erasers, and we knew that if our visual or omni checkpoint was not there within 15 seconds of when we expected it, then we were lost and broke a sweat until we figured out where we were.

Now pilots casually land at the wrong airports . . . must have been that solar flare . . . . And it is not just that modern navigators do not use traditional techniques, they have a trained incapacity and would not know where to start.

Keep your slide rules and drafting kits.

Millman, I like everything you say.   I once had the pleasure of directing a bunch of very good creative young engineers.  My method was to find out what they wanted to do and cut 'em loose with the background support they needed- lab techs, drafstpeople, secretary, etc.  We made our money by selling all the smart ideas that came pouring out of those engineers.  We could have made a lot more money by actually doing the commercialization ourselves, but I was too addicted to new ideas to get to that- and not smart enough in business matters.

Look around; sustainable energy is hot with venture capital these days, and lots of opportunities are sprouting up.  Think about starting your own game.  The thing you pick to do is less important than your desire to do it.  My own passion is solar and biomass.  They have got to work, the quibbles about EROI and all that are just smoke in the way.  We just have to be clever enough and determined enough to wiggle thru the barriers.

I look out my window and see tons of biomass  quietly rotting in place waiting to be toted off to the dump.  My, my.   Reminds me of my schoolboy question to One Who Knows-- why do airplanes have a big vertical fin when birds don't have any at all???.  NO answer.

And by the way, I agree with you about the Japanese being risk averse.  It was maddening to try to work with them on anything new.

If you would like to talk, send me a note --

The thing you pick to do is less important than your desire to do it.  

And your skill in working with your idea and selling it is more important then the idea itself being the very best one.
If you are good it is fairly likely that a venture capitalist will assume that you will change plans as you unfold your idea and it meets reality and customers.

This is my limited experience from working in two companies and participating in their start up and devlopment, and before staring to study again. Last time I tried to become an engineer I quit before getting an exam to work with intresting ideas. ;-)

Back then the new thing were internet and I did together with friends among other things build Swedens and perhaps Europes first dorm network.

I got the same feeling of understanding about energy and peak oil as I had about internet and free software but now I am much more alone. I am not living closely together with people who has the same kind of understanding and knowledge  getting to know them enough to trust them and vise versa. And getting in position to manipulate them to get help with my grand ideas. ;-) I am alone, out here on Internet, where people hide behind pseudonyms and my email is mostly spam. dammit I need to focus, focus needs inspiration, inspiration is given by a setting and people, the oil drum is inspiering but not fruitful.

But do follow your hearts desire, this is the best field for new ideas and reworkings of society channeling vast ammounts of money since internet.

What a great picture: TOD as gathering place and launching pad for new clusters of engineering talent dedicated to making the post-peak world function.  Of course, as a non-engineer I do better on the pictures than on the details :)
I cant think of a better personal or communal use for TOD.

You could do wonders by figuring out some mechanism for creating even more contact and trust. For instance how can one get a face and feel for a contributors history? Myself I have an easier time rembering the old odd fellows then those that might be better to cooperate with.

Btw, today I noticed a fairly nearby worn down but cleary reasonable to renovate small iron works for sale. Starting price $100k for a few smaller wooden houses in need of renovation, about 3000 m2 of old workshops with overhead cranes and flat concrete floors, a micro hydro powerplant, probably with good water flow and 9 hectares of land on a half island in a lake and 2 hectares of water. Its cheap since it is 25 km into the woods from a reasonably sized town. Would have been nice to know some more local peak oilers that are survivalist minded or looking for a large and cheap workshop and tip them about it. There is a nearby major railway line but no station for loading and unloading goods.
Main view
Helicopter view
Helicopter view
Helicopter view
Employee housing, in a bad condition
Laundry house, in a bad condition
Old main office
Cooling bed, about 2100 m2
Mini hydro powerplant
Workshop built in 1980

Thank me if you buy this bargain! ;-)

You could do wonders by figuring out some mechanism for creating even more contact and trust. For instance how can one get a face and feel for a contributors history? Myself I have an easier time rembering the old odd fellows then those that might be better to cooperate with.

LOL! And it gets harder the more folks who come here.

Good question. I think one of the editors said they are working toward adding a diary component as on dailyKos (if you aren't familiar with the concept, any registered user can post an article on any topic).  With this format, if someone had a concept to propose, or more vaguely a problem to discuss, the discussion around such a specific topic could help focus perceptions of who might have the most to contribute - as well as who participates in the most constructive way.  Take it from there - you all probably have more experience of collaborating on projects electronically than a retired state government employee such as myself.  

I hope this thread is not too dead for the PTB to take this under consideration.

A couple of weeks ago one poster were intrested in the price of micro hydro powerplants in Sweden. I searched for the comment after stumbling on one, opened his(her?) profile and did not find any email adress. End of communication, I almost helped a stranger that perhaps might have become a friend with time.

I would prefer a TOD where people join as themselves and not as shadows. Why the &€%( are you hiding yourselves?

Why the &€%( are you hiding yourselves?
Not hiding, just letting one side of my personality shine by separating it from the rest of my life and past.  It also lets me maintain one persona from place to place rather than being E-P some places and my real name in others.

There are reasons to want to remain pseudonymous; my known antipathy to Islamism and Islamists is one.

There may be quite legitimate reasons for concealing identity. For example, suppose I worked for the CIA (Certified Incompeten A . .holes) but wished to criticize my organization on TOD; it would not be wise reveal my identity.

No, I do not work for the CIA, nor for the FBI (Fumbling Bumbling Imbeciles), but it is possible that I might have some connections that would not look kindly on my remarks.

Also, some might wonder if I have permits for the little experiments I do that might involve ethanol;-)

I always thought that it stood for "Clowns In Arlington", myself. Oh, for the days of "Oh So Smarties" back during WWII. Before the Yalie clowns like Bush took over.
I also feel that I most people respect engineers. Of course, I think many people often think about engineers with stereotypical overtones about us being math geeks or something similar; however, what was perhaps a derogatory stereotype in high school/college is much more favorable in mid-late 20's.

As far as pay, they only person from my high school class that I can think of that is making more than me is a guy they graduated with me in college. He double majored in Chemical and Environmental engineering; however, couldn't find an engineering job after graduation during the recent recession. He did get on at a maintenance position at a paper mill and is now making mid 70s with moderate amounts of overtime.

Its not a shortage of engineers.

Why do fewer people(companies) ask for advanced practical problem solving?

Why do not fairly obvious needs (efficiency, enviromental, ...  , a future less likely to bring disasters) give a craving for doing something real about them?

It's not so much how much you make, but how much you make per IQ point. An engineer with an IQ of 140 will do pretty well. A lawyer with an IQ of 140 will do better. A lawyer with an IQ of 160 will get rich.
Well, you need a decent EQ to be a lawyer. Engineers can do engineering with a room temperature EQ. They just won't make much money.
Did any of you college grads do any simple math with the figures in the lead.  This old bus driver figured out that the continent with 50% of the world population handed out only 42% of degrees. The US with only 5% of the world population handed out 14% of the degrees.
There is a way around the engineer supply problem and it is something called apprenticeships. If an industry really needed engineers then that industry should foot the bill of giving on the job training of its future engineers. Right now college students, even the brightest, face difficult challenges in financing their education and being required to pay for classes which have zip to do with their career goals.
I don't believe we face an engineer shortage. The shortage we face is people with the hands on skill to build and keep our machines working. For instance the boomers who were trained by the big three to keep those assembly lines moving are retiring. My brother just retired after 35 years as a machinery repairman at GM. Hundreds of assembly workers would stand around collecting high wages while he replaced the same part again and again because the engineers never actually touched the machines they designed.
You raise a very good point. One of my brightest students (who was smart enough to get a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, had he been so inclined) took a two-year degree in Engineering Technology. And why? Because he actually liked to get out in the field and do things and fix things and make them work.

Today many "engineers" are pretty much doing applied physics or chemistry or math and are very far distant from the competency that used to be part of what it was to be an engineer.

"Engineers" used to make steam locomotives go. I wonder how many engineers today could fix a steam locomotive or make one go efficiently and effectively under various conditions.

"Engineers" used to get their hands dirty keeping the engines of ships going; some still do.

So-called engineers today often are adept with math and computer simulations, but I would not trust them to sharpen an axe.

Right now college students, even the brightest, face difficult challenges in financing their education and being required to pay for classes which have zip to do with their career goals.
The obscenity which is "diversity education" should be removed to non-credit elective status; at the very least, the victims students should be paid to take it.

The problems with apprenticeships are three:

  1. If a company is already short of engineering personnel, taking their time to educate apprentices hurts the firm in the short term.
  2. After spending all that time and money bringing a student through the program, there's no assurance that they'll either be any good.
  3. Those who are good may not stay with the company.