Engineers, Have We Left Ourselves In The Dust?
by Terry V. Molloy, PE
(Reprint from April, 2004 Transmitter)
The other day I was reading about all the engineering jobs
going to India, China and other far away places where the
labor is cheap. Of course other jobs are going there
as well but that is not the issue here.
Did you know that about 100 years ago Mechanical Engineers
made $5,000 per year? Now that may not sound like much
today, but it was a lot of money then. It was certainly
on par with what doctors made and more than what most lawyers
made at the time. What has changed and why?
Before we go there let’s look at our current situation
with the professional engineering societies in the United
States. I have heard that the ASME is having serious
financial problems and is making changes to its organizational
structure as is the Chemical Engineering Society. My
apologies if my information is incorrect, but it is very consistent
with the problems facing the ISA, so I have no reason to question
What has been the primary focus of our professional technical
societies in this county? I can tell you one major effort;
protect United States Companies market share by participating
on international standards bodies to insure the new standards
do not result in high retooling cost to US manufacturers and
other similar maladies. Prior to that our efforts were
focused on developing standards to reduce costs and level
the playing field for all equipment suppliers. Yes,
for engineers it has always been about keeping the price low
for the products we produce and THE SERVICES WE PROVIDE! Our
professional technical societies have reinforced that mission
year after year. I have been part of that effort for
many years and now I am seriously questioning the wisdom of
continuing in that direction.
How many of our citizens are going to India for medical
treatments? Do we let Lawyers from China or Japan practice
in the US without first having passed the Bar Exam IN THE
STATE THEY WILL PRACTICE IN? You may say that this is
a consumer safety issue, we need to be sure the doctors and
lawyers are properly trained to protect the client’s interest.
I agree that doctors and lawyers must be properly trained
and that training must be verified through a standardized
testing program for the protection of the public. BUT!
I also believe that the work of engineers is more critical
from a public safety prospective that that of a lawyer. When
we screw up people can die and a board of peers cannot pass
it off as “the risk one takes with that surgery” or as most
lawyers will say, “you never know how the judge will rule.”
My point is that our professional technical societies should
be developing and promoting requirements for professional
engineers to practice engineering in the same way that doctors
are credentialed. We all know that the average engineering
college graduate is not qualified to perform complex engineering
design work just like a new intern is not qualified to perform
brain surgery. But with time and experience the engineer
like the doctor will gain the knowledge to do expert work.
Elsewhere in this issue there is an article by Tom Stout
that discusses some alternatives to the current way engineers
are licensed or not licensed. Read that article
and give Tom and me your thoughts.
For my part I think we should be doing much more to protect
the technology we have developed as well as the personal information
of our citizens. Computer software contains the information
necessary to design many of the products that give the US
its competitive edge in world markets (and in the military
arena) and we are sending that software out of the country
for continued development because the labor is cheaper? What
is wrong with this picture? That coupled with the fact
that many companies are “outsourcing” their customer service
function to countries that do not have the same restrictions
on personal information afforded us here at both the state
and federal level. Identity theft is a real problem
in this country; how much worse will it get when someone is
doing it from overseas?
Our professional technical societies should be working
to protect our intellectual property, not for their use to
fund society activities and staff, but for the security of
the Country, American jobs, and the safety of the public.
We should have our societies working just as hard to
protect our professions as the AMA or the Bar Associations
work to protect their respective professions. As private
citizens we should be writing our legislators telling them
we do not want any of our personal information released to
anyone without our written consent and that no company may
make certain information, like Social Security Numbers, Birth
Dates, etc., available to service companies outside of the
What are your thoughts?