General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says that engineers coming out of U.S. schools lack the hands-on experience they used to havewhich would give them "bone deep" understanding of the products they develop. In a keynote address to the SAE 2005 World Congress in Detroit, he said this is from lack of getting their "hands dirty" by going under the hoods of cars or even building old-fashion Erector Sets and Heathkit electronic projects. He also notes that even if budding engineers are working on cars, there are fewer and fewer components and systems that can be serviced or fixed by amateurs today.
Lutz adds there is a bright spot, although a shrinking one. Engineering students coming out of family farms have such practical insight from having learned to repair machinery for the enterprise to survive.
In addition, he observes, American engineering schools are not teaching drafting skills (even on CAD systems) to engineering students. Such training would impart some sense as to what's underneath the hood and skin, as well as how things go together. "We are training engineers to be managers. The rest of the world trains them to be doers," Lutz says. He notes that GM is making certain all its engineers receive CAD training to make up for this deficiency.
He also contrasts the way some domestic engineering groups work versus their counterparts in Japan and Europewhere drafting skills are still taught and the European apprentice system provides shop-type experience. The international teams would, for example, begin brainstorming and sketching solutions to change an automobile's internal structure on the design studio floor. Many U.S. teams would repair back to their desks and come back days later with an answer. Such "bureaucratization" of technology, Lutz concludes, slows the design process.