You hit the nail right on the head. I'm part of a college advisory board where we track trends like this, and the data points to many of the best and brightest going into finance instead of engineering.
The problem is not confined to the USA, it's the same in Europe too, and I suspect it will travel to the emerging countries eventually. Kids do not want to do engineering degrees as they are too hard work and not considered 'sexy' enough. And the pay and career progression, which can be good for older experienced people (because there are so few younger entrants) puts off graduates.
When I was a kid, there was a buzz about technology - the Apollo years, the possibilities of electricity being so cheap (due to nuclear power) and the promise of reduced work hours due to technology making life easier. None of that really materialised, and governments, the media and ordinary people came to conclude that science and engineering wasn't the panacea it was supposed to be.
The powers that be simply don't notice, or don't care. However with declining science and engineering prowess, we will revert to pre-industrial revolution economies. That's right, agriculture. There will be a lot of social disruption (read: wars) on the way. Is it too late to change?
I believe the problem is both Wall Street and Asia. Not sure which one came first, but the Wall Street CEO's 'aint complaining. They got extremely fat thanks to some very smart engineers and physicists. They continue to get fatter, even in the wake of apparant disaster. Large tech CEO's 'aint complaining either, they get their imports made for free. Good luck reversing either trend.
While US society gives freedom to their kids in choosing a profession, in India parents wants their kids to become either engineer or doctor. They just dont settle with less. I have seen the cases where the boy doesnt have the intelligence level not interest in studying engineering but mother and father of the boy want him to complete his engineering at any cost. As a result the society is full of engineers.
I agree with Otta that the problem isn't only from the 2008 blip - it goes back to the 2000 drop in the NASDAQ
Before that young engineers were being trained, and assuming at some point in their career they could join a magic startup and make millions when it did it's IPO.
When the buble burst a lot of the job opportunities went off-shore in the interest of saving money, and the bright kids were lured into other places where the money seemed easier. It wasn't only banks but a raft of softer services. You only have to look back at the falling number of engineering graduates over the last decade or so to see the trend, plus factor in the percentage of foreign students being trained by US schools.
It's been obvious for a long time that the supply of competent engineers in the US is both aging and reducing. I believe other industries have similar problems - airline pilots for example.
In the end it's a product of our society and it's only society that can change it. It we want to continue the rate of innovation that's made us more productive and wealthly year on year since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we've got to shift the reward system so the technologists get better rewarded and merchants and people who take percventages of othr peoples money in the name of financial "services" are less well rewarded.
Meantime the electronics industry faces one heck of a problem in the US over the next couple of decades as engineers retire with nobody to replace them.
Generation gap is clearly in place. Downturn of year 2k is responsible. Same CEO's/WallStreet types that hired everyone who was capable of few keystrokes before y2k did mass layoffs for next 3 years. Even after this time getting hired for unexperienced young engineer was extremely difficult. My friend son finished university at summer 2002. No chance for a job, he applied for master (and everyone in his class also applied) was lucky and get master degree year later. Then lost 3 years selling furniture. Fortunately he become engineer after that... what is motivation for young people for engineering? There is a gap at least from 2000- 2006/7 where most of them lost their chance and lost interest. After all average salaries at investment banking sector in same time rising above $400k level. Thats direction country is steered to, why go against mainstream?
Lance Jones said: It could just be that we have heard for so long that everything is moving to Asia, that it has discouraged many of our young people from studying engineering.
Engineering students aren't stupid. When they get the impression that after 4-5 hard years of college and US$100K of debt, they won't be able to get a job because of no experience and even if they do they'll be discarded in 5 years because the employer wants to hire someone cheaper or move their jobs overseas, what exactly is the incentive? You do get some terrific engineering students who simply cannot imagine doing anything else. But those with alternatives are going to go where the money is -- Wall Street.