In an article published last Semptember on the Huffington Post there was a claim that the United States is facing a serious STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) talent crises. The author pointed to a study by the US Department of Labor claiming that the STEM workforce accounts for 50% of economic growth while only 5% of the working population are employed in STEM fields. The article further pointed out that the STEM workforce is increasingly moving toward retirement with an insufficient pipeline of graduates to take up positions needed to drive an innovation-oriented economy. The Manpower group publishes an annual survey looking at the most difficult positions to fill and Engineering comes to near the top (number 2) in their 2012 survey.
Listening to colleagues who have children entering college, I hear frequently that engineering enrollment is surprisingly low. I guess we can all point to a variety of factors as to why this phenomena exists. Are we not emphasizing science and math in our schools? Or, are we not inspired like earlier generations? (think of JFK’s investments in NASA and the drive to have a lunar landing within a decade). Have interfaces become too easy (think Apple and Google) that we take technology for granted and therefore aren’t driven to “tinker”? Do we have too many degree choices? I would guess the answer is a combination of reasons. But certainly, if there is an engineering talent crises in terms of pipeline, then this poses serious implications for the electronics industry.
We tend to talk about the implications of increasing design complexity and business pressures (like time-to-market) as a major factor in informing our organizational initiatives related to PCB development (and product development in general). But what about this additional vector, where we might actually be coping with a workforce that is more burdened due to a shrinking workforce? Add the fact that we are also seeing a decline in the PCB designer population (see an article published in PCD&F last April) and we might have a “perfect storm” brewing.
If, in fact, we are seeing a possible demographic shift in our industry, then that will have implications on design strategies, how organizations drive innovation, and how business targets will be met. Obviously every challenge presents opportunities and some of the solutions will come from political and business leaders but also solutions will have to come from technology solution providers, like Mentor Graphics.