by Lauren Capotosto

U.S. Needs Better Engineers

Jul 01, 20062 mins
IT Leadership

Conventional wisdom says the United States must produce more engineers or risk losing its lead in innovation to India and China, which graduate hundreds of thousands more engineers each year than the United States does. But that’s not the problem, according to Forrester Research: We simply need better ones.

The race to develop more engineers evokes the Cold War arms race, and it’s an approach that won’t work for today’s global economy, says Navi Radjou, a vice president with Forrester. “We should not be looking at China and India and saying they are the new Japan and Russia. These countries are our trading partners.”

Instead, to remain competitive the United States must breed a new type of engineer who is as business-savvy and multiculturally minded as he is technically trained, says Radjou. This interdisciplinary engineer is what India and China do not yet have.

Creating better engineers involves retraining current employees and revamping university engineering curricula to reflect interdisciplinary thinking. But even kindergarten teachers can prepare tiny innovators for engineering by encouraging collaboration and promoting multicultural education.

Nevertheless, argues Martin Jischke, an aeronautical engineer who is president of Purdue University, numbers have power. Jischke, an adviser to President Bush, supports interdisciplinary education but insists, “A nation that lacks a critical mass of scientists and engineers will not lead the world in the decades ahead.”