It is widely acknowledged that US engineering companies are attracting more international than homegrown talent. The problem is that less and less US-born students are going into engineering-related fields. In fact, they are less inclined to study mathematics and science in general. This issue has largely been blamed on our education system. When it was recognized decades ago that fewer students were continuing in math and science, many argued that there should have been bigger pushes to attract them. These same arguments are now being made in Japan, which is facing a similar dwindling of homegrown engineering talent.
In a May 17, 2008 New York Times article titled, "High-Tech Japanese, Running Out of Engineers," Martin Fackler states, "The decline is growing so drastic that industry has begun advertising campaigns intended to make engineering look sexy and cool, and companies are slowly starting to import foreign workers, or sending jobs to where the engineers are, in Vietnam and India." As the article notes, Japan has traditionally had a rather closed culture. Foreign workers also are concerned about the language barrier. As a result, Japan is currently having more success exporting jobs than importing students/talent as the US has done.
Like students in the US, young Japanese people continue to pursue careers in lucrative science-related careers like medicine. They also are attracted to finance-related studies. Yet the remainder of students is clearly choosing to pursue liberal-arts-type degrees rather than engineering. The problem both in Japan and the US is how to attract students to this less-than-glorified career path. Aside from the social assumptions about engineersintroverted, "uncool," etc.engineering is usually associated with very long hours for only somewhat decent pay. In addition, the highs and lows of the semiconductor and related markets often make this industry unstable in terms of job security.
Yet a home-based engineering force is very much in need today, as terrorism and other security threats remain concerns across the globe. The need for countries to innovate their own defense-related productstogether with the need to remain a player in the global technology marketshould urge both educators and companies to inspire students to go into engineering. A solid engineering base is needed to balance the use of foreign talent with the execution of domestic projects. Such a goal may be more realistic than expecting to dominate the worldwide engineering market. In fact, that vision now seems to belong to China. According to the NY Times article, that country has been turning out roughly 400,000 engineers every yearmore than enough to compensate for the shortage faced by other countries.