Products are the lifeblood of our industry, and a constant stream of new innovation coming out of universities is the mother’s milk. But as our products become increasingly sophisticated, the need for better-educated engineering grads intensifies.
How do election results and engineering grads fit together?
There’s a real concern that tea party sentiment fueling a wave of budget cuts will hamstring the industry. In other words, if Congress enacts sweeping budget cuts, the fear is that university R&D will fall victim.
Ray Stata, founder of Analog Devices who will be the SIA’s chairman for the coming year, said the SIA and its new president, Brian Toohey, are already in discussion with Republican leaders to communicate the industry’s agenda.
“The complexity of the products we make today demand Ph.Ds,” Stata said. “You can’t outsource Ph.Ds.”
This higher education “machine is really working. It’s the jewel in the crown of this country.” It’s not a budget line item, but an investment in the future, Stata said.
He cited a study that found that living MIT alumni (he’s one of them) have started 25,000 companies, tallied up $2.2 trillion in sales while employing 3.3 million people.
Choke off R&D, and you choke off innovation and jobs, Toohey said.
“There’s a conflict between deficit policy and jobs,” Stata said.
That’s why Stata, Toohey and many of the diners were cheered by Tuesday’s elections results. As the industry picks itself up from the beat-down of the last few years, executives sense an opening.
Altera CEO John Daane, the normally even-keeled outgoing SIA chairman, thundered from the ballroom stage the need to:
Maintain R&D spending
Ease taxes on off-shore profits to build more manufacturing domestically
Re-energize the R&D tax credit and
Level the playing field with China.
To top off this revival session, the keynoter was conservative columnist George Will, whose picture of a dystopian future for America was gripping, if grim.
The crowd, many of whom frankly have been living off their press clippings and stock gains for a long time, approved.
What does it mean for you?
If you’re entrepreneur (and a majority of you aspire to be one), you’re energized. You see an industry association that's stiffened its spine and you sniff the prospects for building a company with your innovation on a competitive playing field.
If you're a product-line manager, you like what you hear.You're under constant pressure to innovate and you need the means to do it.
If you’re a longtime engineer, you've heard it all before. You’re still frustrated by stagnant wages, the prospect of a new flood of engineering competition vying for your job at a lower salary, the specter of continued off-shoring, and entrenched industry management that thinks more of investors than of employees.
However you lean, it’s going to be an interesting time. Toohey is new to the SIA (he comes from the pharmaceuticals industry), and the organization has moved its headquarters to D.C. to be nearer the action.
Here's hoping we see good news for all three of those cohorts in the coming months.
The degree to which change will happen is proportional to the degree to which engineers get involved in the political process. At the last SIA dinner I attended the speakers practically begged the audience to get involved more in politics. Engineers tend to eschew politics and dismiss politicians. You don't see too many in Congress that are EEs. Mostly they're lawyers or doctors. Mr. Ottelini asking for reduced taxes is good. But real change will only happen when EEs A: Start leveraging their collective strength and B: Start running for office and making logical changes from within. In many ways engineers show their intelligence by not get involved in politics. But we may be too smart for our own good.