Sunday, April 23, 2006

What will Johnny be when he grows up?

It's looking increasingly less likely that Johnny or Suzie will grow up to be an engineer if they are a student in the US.

Why is this important? It is difficult to quantify but as our nation has shifted it's focus from manufacturing to a service economy we have also sacrificed some of our ability to truly innovate. Much of our greatest innovations of the past 100 yrs were direct results of our fascination with science and engineering. We have become a nation of speculators trading financial assets (now it's flipping houses, in 1999 it was day-trading Cisco) while the rest of the world innovates.

I've witnessed this trend occurring for more than 15 years, but there is a critical difference now. Today a talented engineer in India or China may not aspire to come to the US to live the American dream. Many are still struggling through our various immigration hurdles to come to the land of the free, but for many the argument for emigrating is simply not that compelling. Many of the best and brightest will elect to stay at home in 2006-2020 and this lack of imported talent may have tragic consequences on the US economy. The best defense? Push math and science as early and as often as you can with your children.

From a recent presentation by Robert Herbold - former COO, Microsoft - courtesy of VC Confidential.

"If one is to believe that a country's long-term prosperity and growth is tied to the strength of its innovation and science, the US is in increasing trouble. I fear that we will not begin to take things seriously until we are fairly down the declining path. Marc Faber presented two interesting tables from Robert Herbold (former COO, Microsoft).

BS/BA Degrees BS Engineering %Degrees

(000's) (000's) Engineering
  1. US 1,253.0 59.5 5%
  2. China 567.9 219.6 39%
  3. S. Korea 209.7 56.5 27%
  4. Taiwan 117.4 26.6 23%
  5. Japan 542.3 104.5 19%
I'm not particularly concerned with the raw numbers - China has a population 3x ours so to see their educational system producing 3+ times our number of engineers is not too unsettling.

However, the percentages are really disconcerting, only 5% of our students graduate with engineering degrees???? Why are we paying $35k/yr in tuition? To produce some more real estate agents, attorneys and financial planners? Just my 0.02.....

No comments: