@Brian -- it's sad, from two different perspectives, to hear that comment from an engineering department head.
Perspective #1: I've been away from the academic world a long time, but when I was in school, EEs had lab courses and actually built circuits -- with solderless breadboards, but still they built them -- and drew the schematics, and analyzed how & why the measured performance differed from theory. The 'hard core' among us did hardware hacking on the side, because of a fundamental interest in radios, audio circuits, computers or whatever. Getting an EE degree wasn't just about getting a job, it was also about pursuing a passion for electronics.
Perspective #2: My first job out of school, in Arizona, was at a company that immediately put all of us new grads through a 6-month training program before we were thrown into the fire to do "real work." It was there that most of those recent college grads actually learned how to solder. The point was to be able to breadboard & test your own circuits and to make sure you were familiar with actual components, not just symbols on a piece of paper or a computer screen.
Perspective #1 relates to the success or failure of academia to give EE students at least a basic grounding in the real world of electronic circuits.
Perspective #2 relates to the success or failure of employers to assist new EE grads in making the transition from academia and theory and mathematical equations to designing, building and testing real circuits for real products that make money.
A university that graduates its EEs without any hands-on lab experience with real circuits is failing to do its job and is doing its graduates a great disservice.
An employer who expects fresh grads to be fully trained engineers, ready to hit the ground running, hands-on, knowing all the nuances that separate theory from reality, is also doing them and his company a great disservice and is setting himself up for disappointment.
The problem is academia teaches students all the really important things (abstraction and theory) and leave the simple things (HW, soldering, and circuit diagrams) for students to pick up in the labs using the manufacturers prefab prototype boards (which are all becoming more software based thus cheaper than HW) or learn it OTJ. The employer want hit the ground running results (make something now) and does not care about theory mumbo jumbo. Several jobs I have done for past employers only used mostly my basic technician skills. Very seldom did I get to use my highest engineering skills. In an attempt to teach students what they need to advance their fields of engineering, academia is going the extra mile on theory and attempting to fill the employer’s ever growing engineering requirements. Then the employer expects the engineer to also be a technician and do all the grunt work (i.e. architect laying bricks). As everything becomes more software than hardware based, fewer new engineers will have the old skill sets that employers really require. In engineering school I worked with a foreign CompSci student who never once had to open his PC in his young life (must be nice). He was 4.0 in CS theory so guess who did the HW?
To @antiguus, I think I know what you are trying to say, which basically boils down to being able to keep up with a technology as we age, I agree on that front...I do NOT agree however that keeping up with technology means that you need to use the latest and greatest smart phone. It might help (depending on what you do) to understand how that phone works but excelling in operating high-tech gadgets rarely in my experience translate into productive engineering work...Kris
Following up on "antiquus'" comment: Earlier this week I attended the engineering/computing engineering department heads meeting in Arizona.
At one panel's Q&A, a guy from industry (not academia) got up and said essentially "You guys are teaching kids higher abstraction and theory, and I'm seeing young engineers who can't read a circuit diagram or don't know how to solder. I'm not in the business of training people how to be engineers; you are."
He was rather passionate about it (to say the least).
"No new college grads" means experience required, that is not age discrimination. Your statement that older workers are too expensive and have outdated skills exemplifies the age discrimination practiced by management and HR departments everyday.
Funny how so many people say "age discrimination", but over on Janine Love's blog (3/14/2011 3:48 PM EDT), there is a discussion of which cell phone to "move up to". If you're mindset is such that you futz about whether or not you are "ready" for an advanced telephone, then by all measures you are not ready to work in advanced technology.
In recent years, engineering technicians have literally evaporated -- the draftsman, the PCB guy, the lab monkey. EE has little relationship to what it was 20yrs ago, and if you are not down with the necessary skillsets and mindset, then all that experience is Betamax.
Age discrimination is legal - against new college grads mainly - you can literally say "no new college grads" in a want ad. Older employees think they are being discriminated against when they price themselves out of the market or let their skills atrophy.