Professional development can solve skills shortage

There may or may not be enough engineers, but there sure aren't enough needed skills.Motorola chairman Gary Tooker, in his keynote speech at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)-USA Biennial Careers Conference on April 30, in Phoenix, said a current shortage of engineering skills "reveals weaknesses in our economic system and in the way we educate engineers.


There may or may not be enough engineers, but there sure aren't enough needed skills.

Motorola chairman Gary Tooker, in his keynote speech at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)-USA Biennial Careers Conference on April 30, in Phoenix, said a current shortage of engineering skills "reveals weaknesses in our economic system and in the way we educate engineers. These problems threaten to undermine our nation's competitiveness, and the potential to unravel our prosperity as we head into the next millennium.

"We need to figure out how to improve the talent pool and fill in the skills gaps. We must examine our productivity to learn how to make the best use of information technology and our engineering resources," stated Mr. Tooker. "We need more than clickers and draggers. We need more creators and designers to meet the U.S. high-tech industry's needs in a global market."

Devoted entirely to engineering careers, IEEE-USA helps human resource managers, engineers, and engineering managers exchange ideas with industrial and academic leaders and learn new strategies for maximizing individual and organizational growth.

"It's time to get rid of the stereotype of the engineer working in isolation at the keyboard," added Mr. Tooker. "Engineers need to be able to work with people, research and analyze markets, and understand customers' expectations."

Mr. Tooker also called for changes in engineering education programs toward stressing marketing, creativity, and other nontechnical skills to complement technical expertise. Because engineers' professional half-lives have dropped from five years to between 18 months and three years, he further

promoted "life-long learning" that not only keeps up with advances in technology, but also embraces communication skills, develops the imagination, and increases cultural awareness. Mr. Tooker believes changing the professional development of engineers in these ways would improve the quality of engineering overall, while also drawing more needed women, minorities, and liberal arts majors into the profession.

Similarly, the attractiveness of technical careers could be further augmented by a concerted effort involving government, industry, and academia to create advances in code-generation automation and software architecture design. Mr. Tooker says this would reduce the tedious and time-consuming tasks of writing code and make the field more exciting.

Growing the talent pool

To nurture crucial technical skills and a new generation of engineers, Motorola chairman Gary Tooker suggests that U.S. businesses, schools, and government:

Reemphasize the math and reading skills that today's K-12 students will be required to have in their future jobs;

Seek to involve more women and minorities in technical fields;

Reexamine vocational schools and junior colleges for successful technical programs;

Encourage liberal arts majors to develop software skills;

Ask retired engineers to teach technical classes;

Avoid productivity degradation, such as wasting time on unnecessary e-mail;

m Secure added personnel to create software to run increasingly productive semiconductors and circuits;

Develop optimal architectures, system specifications, and automatic code generation to make software development less labor intensive;

Use software libraries to customize applications and create software building blocks rather than writing endless lines of microcode;

Educate engineers within the profession's traditional "design under constraint" environment and prepare them to work in teams that anticipate global customers' needs and produce creative solutions;

Try to bring industrial engineers into academic settings more often and give the academic engineers more chances to practice their profession.

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