Engineering Gap? Fact and Fiction
1. Shortages usually lead to price increases. If there were a shortage of engineers, salaries should have risen. Yet in real terms, engineering salaries have actually dropped (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/15/05, “Good Time to Learn Accounting”).
Shortage of skilled workers is a convenient mirage
Know any scientists or engineers who have been laid off in the last five years?
Most readers would be able to answer “yes” to that question, but you’d never know it from reading op-ed pieces by local academics and senior managers from industry.
Thousands of highly trained scientists and engineers still roam Silicon Valley looking for work after having been cut adrift by the same types of people who now claim that they can’t find anyone to hire. And thousands more are now working in different fields at substantially lower salaries, having given up searching for an equivalent to their previous positions. “No one I know who has looked at the data with an open mind has been able to find any sign of a current shortage,” said demographer Michael Teitelbaum in the Wall Street Journal’s Nov. 16 front-page story, “Behind `Shortage’ of Engineers: Employers Grow More Choosy.” In a column titled “A Phony Science Gap?” (Feb. 22), the Washington Post’s Robert J. Samuelson explained in detail why “it’s emphatically not true, as much of the alarmist commentary on America’s `competitiveness’ implies, that the United States now faces crippling shortages in its technological elites.”
When the time comes for students whose parents grew up in the United States to choose a college major, they will remember those dinner-table conversations. When the best students, being rational, start to desert science and engineering, businesses will have nobody to blame but themselves. The solution will be the same one that existed before the Reagan administration, as Harvard economist Richard Freeman told Samuelson: “If we want more (scientists and engineers), we have to pay them better and give them better careers.””