The U.S. Defence advanced research guys are worried that not enough young Americans are pursuing the sciences or engineering. They are looking for ways to encourage more young people to pursue degrees in these areas.
There is a problem here, and I can tell you exactly what it is. For years, the largest American employers of scientists and engineers have been pursuing a policy that clearly identifies technical skills as pure commodities. As commodities, they are trying to fill positions in these areas with the cheapest resources possible: that is, they are finding their geeks and scientists in India, China, Russia, and Brazil. The basic premise: they can get four or five guys with science degrees “over there” for the price of one in North America.
The big U.S. companies been doing this for a decade. The numbers are staggering: millions of technical jobs have gone “off shore” since the late 90’s. North American technologists wanting a continued career are increasingly being forced to lead a team, manage projects, provide “business analysis” services, or consult. None of these roles really require a technical degree, and they certainly don’t emphasize geek skills.
As a young person just going in to university/college, it isn’t very hard to see the trends. If you want a job in North America, you want business skills: a B.Comm, an MBA, or similar. Oh sure, you might pick up a science degree as well, but you’d be best off eliminating any geek-like tendencies from your personality early on. If you truly like programming, there is some hungry guy in China with a PhD who’ll do it for what would be starvation wages here: and the vast majority of Canadian and U.S. companies are more than willing to hire him rather than you.
The long term result of this “offshoring” of originality and creativity is, to me at least, obvious. In several decades, the United States will no longer be a significant innovator, creator or manufacturer. All of the skills necessary to do these things will exist somewhere else. The U.S. will be a nation of managers, with no one to manage: and I’m pretty sure that the Chinese and Indians can figure out how to manage people pretty well.
I hope I’m wrong. But my guess is that the trend is irreversible- as long as sending skilled technical work elsewhere is cheaper, companies will continue doing it regardless of the consequences. The one hopeful factor is that salaries in “developing” nations are gradually catching up. Maybe it will become less appealing to send a job overseas when it costs nearly as much as it does here. Time will tell…