Conflicting Conclusions On Engineer Offshoring

There seems to be a conflict be-tween the August 2005 “Up Front” column (Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, p. 6) and “Keeping Current” department (p. 12). I see a difference between the conclusions reached in the two sections, even though they appear to use the same information to formulate those conclusions.

“Keeping Current” quotes a report by McKinsey & Co. that says, “U.S., Western European and Japanese professionals should anticipate tougher competition and wages lower than they would enjoy if not for the growing ranks of educated workers elsewhere.” In “Up Front,” Phillips-Donaldson refers to a Wall Street Journal column (which cites the same McKinsey & Co. report) that concludes “the future’s looking bright for U.S. engineers” and “increased demand by the end of this decade will bode well for current and aspiring engineers in developed nations.”

Both “Keeping Current” and Phillips-Donaldson say the HR executives surveyed believed fewer than one in five new engineers in low wage countries would be good hires. But the engineers being hired in low wage countries are being hired under contract to the very companies that do not believe they would make good employees. They may not be qualified to work directly for the company, but they are still doing the work of that company as low wage engineering contractors. And HR executives aren’t usually the ones who make the decision to take a company’s engineering function offshore.

Like many of my peers in the quality profession, I have had the opportunity to travel to some of these low wage countries. Several years ago, the engineer earning $50,000 in the United States was worried his or her engineering job would go to Mexico. Many of those jobs did. Now many of the engineers I deal with in Mexico are worried their $27,000 jobs will go to India or China for $13,000. They probably will.

Phillips-Donaldson suggests “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” and “you may even be able to take advantage of it [globalization] in terms of career opportunities overseas.” The average engineering degree costs $80,000-$120,000 to earn. The payback at $13,000 would take a long, long time.

Tower Automotive
Traverse City, MI

After Action Reviews—Buyer Beware

I read with interest Matthew May’s overview of the Army’s after action review (AAR) process (“One Good Idea: Work Learning In,” August 2005, p. 96).

Interestingly, the July-August 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review also has an article on AARs. I found both articles failed to address why the AAR actually works in the Army environment and why efforts to implement this idea in a business setting have been less than optimal.

Both articles seem to imply you can “copy and paste” the AAR process. Having served in the Army during the time AARs were first developed and implemented and also having tried on several occasions to implement them in a business setting, I must remind readers of W. Edwards Deming’s admonishment against copying something without knowing what makes it work in the first place.

The AAR was initially a tool to aid in training and later developed into a tool for improvement of operations. The Army spends a lot of time training and coaching its people to use the process to best effect. Army training facilities use AARs extensively in “sanitized” learning environments in which soldiers and leaders can see how the process is done. Later, when they return to their units, they can implement AARs effectively.

There are too many elements that make the AAR a powerful tool in its Army setting that if ignored in a business will only lead to disappointing results. Then again, even in the Army, the quality of AARs varies from unit to unit and situation to situation, and they have not been implemented equally well in all areas of Army operations. Buyer beware!

Silgan Plastics
Norcross, GA

‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ Is Right on Target

was flipping through your magazine, and I chanced upon Peter Davis’ article (“Dead Man’s Shoes,” August 2005, p. 35).

It was brilliant. I thank him for his insights into excellence. The aftertaste the article leaves me with is the word “nurture”—people, relationships and one’s own skills, outlook on life, mind and temper.

Calgary, Alberta


In Larry Aft’s letter to the editor (“It All Starts With Industrial Engineering,” August 2005, p. 8) an incorrect title is given for an Industrial Engineer article. The correct title is “The Next Big Lean,” not “The Next Big Team.”

There were three errors in Table 1 of “Quality Shots” (Heriberto Fernan-dez, August 2005, p. 32). On days 10, 14 and 15, the correct percentages are 20%, 30% and 30%, respectively.

‘QP’ Discussion Board

Starting this month, “QP Mailbag” will occasionally publish recent excerpts from Quality Progress’ online discussion board. To post your thoughts, go to www.asq.org/pub/qualityprogress and click on Discussion Board, under Resources.

Every company—large, mid-size or even small—seems to have its own corps of internal quality consultants such that they can avoid engaging the services of outside quality training and consulting organizations.

The responsibility of quality has become diffused and dispersed far more widely than just within the quality department—and more widely than the quality movement has cared to admit. Quality has become everyone’s responsibility, because management has seen to it that everyone is trained and aware of the quality issues in his or her job.

These companies are afraid an outside organization will pirate their carefully and arduously constructed internal quality initiatives and systems, so there are also intellectual property issues involved in the quality area.

Bottom line: What is really happening IS the next big thing—and the next big thing is not a particular methodology or approach like Six Sigma. It is the assumption of quality responsibility by management, the diffusion of quality responsibility throughout the entire organization and the rise of the development of innovative, proprietary quality approaches at the organizational level.

Professional Quality Sales International

I differ with you on the first point. Many companies have well developed quality systems and people knowledgeable about applying quality concepts. However, many companies—perhaps 50% of companies with fewer than 100 employees—only do inspection and don’t have integrated quality systems. These companies may have one or two individuals who know quality systems concepts exist but have no experience in that environment and no idea how to implement an integrated quality system. These companies often do not have an individual with quality as his or her primary responsibility. Their present quality development would date back to what many companies had in the 1960s.

So, there is still a large opportunity to spread quality concepts.

I believe a low percentage of companies have extensive training in quality concepts and work performance. I suspect 90% or more of all companies have less than 40 hours of training per individual per year, other than on-the-job training. You’re giving too much credit to management.

Nondisclosure agreements can put restrictions on what information is revealed to other parties, and the threat of courts will help enforce the agreement. My guess as to why many companies do not like to use consultants is they have learned from their mistakes. The consultants come in, recommend changes, collect their fees, leave, and nothing ever changes in the company.

I haven’t heard this. What about outside calibration services and registrars, or are you including the registrars’ auditors in your statement?

Terre Haute, IN

I agree fully with the “bottom line.” This is what I am living through—and doing it with quality tools through the safety department, not the quality department. Safety responsibility is definitely a line management responsibility, at least at Fluor.

Richland, WA
Fluor Hanford

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