Worker Shortage

The Future of Engineering: Where do we go from here?

The year 2013 was marked by the revelation that in Canada, there is a dire shortage of Canadian engineering skilled workers. A study by IBM added that by 2016,  there might be a shortage of almost 100,000 .  The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters further re-iterates this point.  In light of these events, it is beneficial to look at the historic perspective of events. This article published in 1990 talks about a similar shortage then. The lessons from this article are still relevant and worthy of being republished.

Republished from Project Magazine (December 1990)

If we consider that the economic stability of a country depends on the global competitiveness of its resources, industry and technology, than we clearly have a growing problem here in Canada.

Although Canada is richly blessed by an abundance of natural resources, strong industry, and technology, one of our most precious resources, “Canadian Youth”, is slowly dwindling in quality and quantity.

The current situation can be best illustrated by the following:

  • Canadian’s are an aging society. The National Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC) predicts that by 1997, there will be 800,000 fewer young adults (18-24 years old) as compared to 1981.
  • At the current rate of decline, Canadian Universities will be facing a 13 percent drop in all disciplines by 1997
  • Applications to non-science programs have doubled over the past 10 years with business programs recording an increase of more than 50 percent.
  • Applications to general science programs have increased by 30 percent over the same period.

The outlook for engineering schools is considerably more critical. The number of applications to Canadian engineering schools has increased slightly over 4 percent over the same period as the information above. Unfortunately, the enrollment having peaked in 1986 has steadily declined by more than 6 percent over the past 4 years.

shortage of more than 30,000 engineers matched with a projected 48 percent increase in demand by the turn of the century translates into economic and technological disaster for Canada

Compounding the problem with declining enrollment are the predictions from the Canadian Engineering Manpower Board. News of a shortage of more than 30,000 engineers matched with a projected 48 percent increase in demand by the turn of the century translates into economic and technological disaster for Canada.

Statistical trends have indicated that the most significant drop in interest towards science and engineering careers has occurred within the high schools (grades 9-12/13). In fact, 63 percent of those students who enter grade 9 will not complete a post-secondary degree, and of the remaining 37 percent, only 1.8 percent will complete university.

Realizing that inaction spells disaster, some industries and companies have established links with educators to improve the quality and scope of science and technologically based education.

Interaction with businesses has been established in a number of ways:

  • Introducing interactive software and computers at the elementary level to encourage and improve skills in mathematics, reading and problem solving
  • Hosting and/or sponsoring science contests, design competitions and science fairs at the local, provincial, and national levels.
  • offering scholarships.
  • hosting conferences for exemplary teachers
  • providing co-op/mentorship programs

Although there is no way to measure the effectiveness of these programs at this point, businesses still continue to pour in millions of dollars in the hope that some progress for the future will be achieved. Unfortunately, current programs seem to be fighting some form of inertia, which ironically, albeit not intentionally is emanating from the engineering schools themselves.

… secondary school students perceive engineering as too tough or too hard.

It is no great mystery that obtaining an engineering degree is extraordinarily difficult. Obtaining this degree requires skills in time management, discipline, and perseverance. It is therefore no great surprise that secondary school students perceive engineering as too tough or too hard.

Student engineers are constantly of the growing opinion that in order to stimulate interest, business and classroom must be synonymous. Co-op programs in tandem with an engineering degree provide the students with the necessary experience, financial stability and possible employment after graduation. Participating companies have the luxury of selecting those they feel will perform the job, while also having some security in the fact that they have a qualified pool of engineering graduates available.

By somehow including senior high school students into this area of post-secondary education a critical link can be established. Unfortunately, the logistics of such a program have never been established. Moreover, the amount of money presently being spent on R & D by the Canadian government is so pathetic, that lack of such funds limit the effectiveness of such a program.

The current trends indicate economic disaster for Canadian business and industry is a distinct possibility. Government, business and educators must work together to implement some form of activated program to increase enrollment. The possibilities are endless, but they are also necessary. If action is not taken to solve this growing problem, Canadian industry and Canada as a whole will pay a heavy price.

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