yeah, there are never enough people interested in science and engineering, there 1000's of unfilled engineering jobs in every town all over the world. it's a crime I tell you.
we have to MAKE them be interested even if they're not - these people make the best engineers in the long run. :-)
Before universities start to better prepare the engineers for the realities of the workplace (in the US), society here needs to accord a higher status symbol to the role of an engineer. Eventhough some of lack of clout is the self-inflicted deprecating engineer, it is hard to have the best and brightest strive for a career that is (and I emphasize that I am not counting the Googles/Apples and other icons of the industry here) for the most part taking a back seat to nimbler marketing/sales/legal eagles who end up populating the higher rung of the technology industry either by mastery of the social skills or by a deep ingrained misperception that seems to dog the engineer. This is a shame because as many of us know the best leaders and managers are in fact engineers who overcame the stigma associated with the profession, so to answer Rick, I believe we need even deeper and wider T-shape preparation by the universities (as Dean Plummer states) to augment technical insight with the social skills and communication/cultural depth and breadth. Now I also believe (and I agree with most what is posted above) that the academia needs to move to a more independent and fierce fundamental research and move away from an increased dependence on research funded by corporations that steer the applied research to potentially practical but not necessarily radically innovative outcomes. The game of numbers (number of papers, ranking, size of endowment, even academic standards) does not make an education nor provides a learning environment. We have been lucky in having the new media, the excellence of textbook content make up for the lack of educational energy and evolution to a more dyamically changing science and technology training and preparation. Discoveries belong to universities that do independent research and their application need to be in the industry realm. The usual disclaimers apply like 'there are exceptions', and 'your mileage may vary' and 'this does not happen here' and all that jazz. There. I hope I did not alienate everyone by now, but I do believe we need less data, more knowledege everywhere as that alone creates a new data set we have yet to explore.
First, I want to chime in that I agree with msmiller's comments at top.
Job security is sub-zero for engineers, as management & academia continue to flood the market with cheap imports. Were they all the "best and brightest", I would have less of a problem with it, but let's face it, it is a numerical onslaught at this point. Add to this offshoring - and remember, IBM has started telling engineers to "offshore themselves" if they want to keep their job! - and no kid with common sense would want to touch our field.
There is a much deeper issue here that reaches beyond merely economics and careers: what is to become of freedom? We have the US spending treasure and blood to further the cause of freedom around the world (and hence enhance our security), and the young men & women of America bear the brunt of this. But then look what our supposed "betters" value instead: importing people from / offshoring jobs to places that not only have never put their butts on the line for freedom, but that actually are, at best, corruptocracies (India) or are complete thugocracies (China, Vietnam).
Think about this for a minute: IBM, supposedly one of America's "engineering crown jewels", is now telling Americans that they are expected to pack up, leave the land they grew up in and may even have fought for, and then give up freedom of speech, freedom to bear arms, freedom of religion, OR EVEN THE FREEDOM TO FEND OFF A FORCED ABORTION if they want to continue the job they've worked hard to establish.
This is revolting. By extension, IBM is revolting. What American, freedom-loving kid would want to be part of this revolting mess? Since IBM is a leading American engineering firm, what does this say about what American engineers value?
So, to answer your question: what can Universities do to better prepare engineers for the realities of the workplace:
a) mandate teaching of entrepreneurial / business skills (ironically, Stanford appears better at this, at least judging by historical results, than other schools);
b) teach cross-discipline skills;
c) teach manufacturing skills - if you want to make something inventive, and keep others from ripping it off, you can't just offshore it;
d) teach how to be an long-term, responsible owner, rather than a short term, irresponsible trader, when it comes to one's investment portfolio; and
e) MOST IMPORTANTLY: teach love of our country, our capitalism, our freedoms, and the sacrifices our forefathers had to make to keep us free. If engineers, with our power, don't VALUE these things, we will be creating a world that doesn't HAVE these things.
The teaching in universities, especially in engineering schools is terrible, the mentoring is substandard or non-existent. I think the tenure systems, whereas serving only to provide job security for the professors, do not provide the more important issues of accountability of the teachers/professors to students.The same issues of accountability of teachers from the lower levels of the educational system percolate to the top at the university levels. It is really appaling. The teachers and professors get to retain their jobs and the students leave the schools/universities ill-prepared for the "real world". The educational systems need to be student centric not teacher/professor centric as it is now structured.
I'm baffled why people are bashing Dean Plummer. He sounds like he has a good grip on the engineering education process.
The whole part about getting the public schools aligned with technology is challenging at best, and way beyond the control of a university, but it is a good place to start.
My personal experience with our education system gives me the feeling that large numbers of bright students fail to conform to the model that our schools demand. I was a marginal student that somehow made it into an engineering job at a major aerospace company. I have been more or less successful throughout my carreer. I may have been more successful if I had come out of the education system with beter grades. My performance in school does not seem to have a lot to do with my performance in the work place. My son may not be as lucky as I was to make it through the education system. We are strugling to figure out how to modify his behavior to get through the school system. He has poor grades but had the highest score in his grade on a math placement test. Will he be able to get into a good college? Will he be able to perform if he does? At the end of the day will doing either one better equip him for success in his career?