Bright Future for Engineers?

In this month’s “Career Corner” column, Hank Lindborg takes an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach to globalization (p. 81). In other words, you can’t and shouldn’t ignore it—and you may even be able to take advantage of it in terms of career opportunities overseas.

On the flip side, a recent “Capital” column by David Wessel in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said despite globalization and its frequent companion—the outsourcing of jobs to other countries—the future’s looking bright for U.S. engineers. (If you subscribe or have access to WSJ, I highly recommend Wessel’s succinct yet insightful column on p. A2 each Thursday.)

Wessel cited a report by the McKinsey Global Institute (www.mckinsey.com/mgi) stating that while the number of young university trained engineers is growing rapidly in India and China, they don’t all represent a threat to U.S engineers and their jobs. That’s because, according to the report, HR executives at 83 large organizations said fewer than one in five engineers in so-called low wage countries would be good hires for their companies.

Wessel concluded the report doesn’t support complacency in the United States and similar countries with higher wages, but increased demand by the end of this decade will bode well for current and aspiring engineers in developed nations. He didn’t specify types of engineers, so it’s difficult to know whether this outlook holds true for those in quality. By that I don’t mean just people with the job title of quality engineer. I’m also considering engineers in niches or close relatives of quality: reliability, safety, manufacturing, process, production, supplier management, software quality.

Extrapolating from the annual QP salary survey, the proportion of engineers in the quality field has remained fairly stable over the past 15 years relative to the overall number of quality professionals. The percentage of respondents with “engineer” in their job titles was 18.9 in 1990 and 21.8 in 2004, though it dropped to a low of 13% in 1996 and rose to a high of 24.9% in 2001. Except for a couple minor dips, the salaries of quality and related engineers steadily increased during the same period, starting at an average of $40,745 in 1990 and rising to $61,719 in 2004. (Watch for the 2005 results in December.)

While the expansion of quality into nonmanufacturing areas like healthcare, education, service and government could signal a lower demand for people with “engineer” in their job titles, that doesn’t mean their training, skills and experience aren’t sorely needed. In this month’s “QP Mailbag” (p. 8), Larry Aft argues concepts such as lean, process improvement and even quality are basically just industrial engineering. To paraphrase him, though, what quality professionals are called is not the issue; what matters is they continue to apply their knowledge and skills to help organizations all over the world succeed.

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