Beavis and Butt-head Syndrome

At the World Batch Forum this week, a number of speakers, including Control editorB&B Walt Boyes and Managing Automation editor David Brousell, described the dearth of skilled engineering talent and labor within the U.S. today, and some of the reasons why this shortfall exists today. Immigration is down, and the world's technical and scientific elite can find many more outlets for their talents around the world, as Richard Florida made clear in his book, "The Flight of the Creative Class" (read recent interview here). The problem is that there isn't enough sufficiently trained native talent to replace them all (or the Boomers who are about to retire). Manufacturing is shunned, and most high school students can't imagine themselves studying science or math, much less engineering. And their parents, some of whom have suffered long hours and multiple layoffs as undervalued manufacturing engineers aren't about to try to change their minds. Unfortunately, less academically inclined students don't even consider vocational education or pursue the training that would land them lucrative manufacturing jobs. Instead, many go through four years of college only to end up underemployed (and undercompensated), with a pile of student loans and other debt (as Anya Kamenetz chronicled in "Generation Debt.") Education is the root of the problem. When it is good, in the U.S., it is very very good. But when it is bad... Some expatriates who have lived in the U.S. for years are now leaving because they feel that their children will receive a better education back home or abroad. Are their concerns are overblown? After all, one can still receive an excellent education in the U.S., and graduate schools here are still among the best in the world (although European universities appear to be a bit ahead of them in pharma education). But it's more than education. It's the general environment and values communicated every day: Al Qaeda could not have created more effective weapons of generational destruction than some of the T.V. programs that young people watch, or the soul-killing video games that many of them play today. Most parents protect children against these influences, but not all do, or can. Don't we owe it to children to convince them of the value of studying science and math, and studying in general, at the earliest stages of their education process. Even before they start kindergarten? Don't we also owe them a true "world view" and equal footing, educationally, with their peers around the world? -AMS