It is 2020. Knowledge management and information gathering dominate the world. Therefore, he who owns and controls information is king. Globalization has made labor cheaper and abundant. Yet, the critical assets are inno-thinkers. They are the lifeblood of society.
With the majority of engineers coming from China and India in 2020, American companies lose their innovative edge in the marketplace. Many historians point to 2008 when US engineering schools did nothing to wave off the international threat. Some hoped things would change. Yet, the future remains uncertain for engineering in America.
As America marches to a different drummer, it finds there is an impending danger ahead. While globalization has become a menacing threat to some businesses, the major challenge for traditional academic institutions is to produce engineers who are intelligent, creative, and internationally savvy to handle the challenges of the 21st century. However, only 2% of the general public associate engineering with creativity according to Harris Poll sponsored by the American Association of Engineering Societies and IEEE-USA. In managerial decision-making, creativity involves the ability of a manager to discover novel ideas as possible alternative courses of action for the organization to use in solving a particular problem.
The lack of creativity by today’s engineers becomes critical as more businesses look for technical workers for the future workforce. According to a survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 63% of American business leaders said college graduates are not prepared for the global environment. From a market-oriented perspective, organizational leaders must be concerned with the present downward trend of American engineering schools in producing innovative students.
Academia must overcome several potential barriers that when transforming engineering schools to centers of innovation. Currently, there are 346 universities approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), the national organization that sets standards for engineering schools. Although scientists and engineers make up only 5% of the United States population, they generate up to 50% of the Gross Domestic Product.
Sadly, fewer American students are earning degrees in engineering and science. This situation is creating a national crisis for businesses looking for innovation and creativity from the nation’s finest.
In 2004, the United States graduated roughly 70,000 undergraduate engineers while other countries such as China (600,000) and India (350,000) were graduating more engineers. Traditionally, educators attribute the high attrition rate of individuals leaving engineering majors to their inability to cope with the intrinsic hardness of technical majors and do not view it as a major problem.
However, criticism of faculty pedagogy, together with those of curriculum design and student practices, constitutes the largest group of problems for students leaving technical majors.
Demographic changes also continue to shape the realities of engineering schools. Non-traditional universities are leveraging diversity as a competitive advantage while many traditional schools are not.
Thus, the demographic changes of more women, minorities, and low income students have created social pressure on engineering schools to find other pipeline sources than the traditional sources.
In order to the fierce realities of globalization, engineering schools need to shift their strategy toward a creativity focus. Technological and cultural influences are demanding new creative solutions. Many institutional leaders operate engineering schools in a manner that suggests that innovation happens by chance. Michael Michalko, author of Thinkertoys, argues that creativity is not an accident. In fact, it must be an organization intention to foster creative-thinking strategies.
Many times engineering students lose sight of creativity and focus solely on the technical aspects of engineering. A liberal arts education provides an exchange of fresh ideas and an expansion of the creative mind.
Researcher Gary Berg argues that higher education needs to balance applied and liberal arts curricula in order to be effective. Therefore, a new approach to learning is needed in engineering schools. In tomorrow’s universities, collaborative building will be in high demand.
Unfortunately, many times faculty members discourage engineering students from acquiring a broader educational experience. Therefore, engineering schools become a place where students are inhibited from growing creatively.
Twenty-first century leaders in engineering departments must address the needs of students in becoming creative if they hope to take advantage of future opportunities in hypercompetitive environments. Some people wonder if these schools can change.
What challenges and obstacles prevent traditional institutions from producing creative engineers? How do domestic universities transition themselves into incubators of multinational innovation?
© 2011 by Daryl D. Green