8:11 AM

(editor's note: This post was only up for a couple of hours before the news broke that Bush had released his budget, so I am bumping this to the top again - dp)

Who among us
will build them?

Aviationweek.com is running an excellent article right now asking a question with an alarming answer: When today's baby boomer aerospace engineers retire, who will take their jobs and build the flying machines of tomorrow?

As we experience the “graying” of the aerospace engineering workforce, many in the trade are wondering if there will be enough new brainchildren to fill these kinds of gaps:

By next year, an estimated one-in-four U.S. aerospace workers will be eligible to retire; nearly one-in-three civilian scientific and technical workers in the Defense Dept. have already reached that milestone. And the full impact of the graying workforce hasn't hit yet. In 2011, an 18-year-long wave of baby boomers will start collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits. Another problem: massive layoffs during the consolidations of the 1990s that left the defense industry with a shortage of middle-aged talent.
Now you might think that there are schools out there like MIT that crank out the talent annually, and you'd be right. Currently, the Cambridge, Massachusetts campus is “home” to a very talented group of graduate students who are building the Terrafugia Transition, the roadable airplane that if all goes well will begin appear in garages around the country towards the end of 2009.

But MIT is a rarity...and the ugly truth is that our university systems have not kept pace with the rest of the world. These numbers confirm that bright, young A & D engineers are few and far between:
In 2005, U.S. universities awarded 70,000 bachelor's degrees in engineering and 41,000 master's and Ph.D.s, according to the Education Dept. While most of the bachelor's degrees went to Americans, just over half of the advanced degrees were earned by citizens of other countries. A growing number of those graduates are taking their brainpower back home.
Meanwhile, the number of engineers graduating overseas is rising dramatically. Raytheon Chairman/CEO William H. Swanson is quoted as using a “conservative” estimate of 400,000 Chinese engineering graduates a year, and other sources put India's engineer output in the neighborhood of 350,000 grads.

So let's crunch some numbers, shall we? Last year, just 624,000 U.S. workers produced $184 billion in sales, according to aviationweek.com. If all of the 156,000 engineers they say are eligible to retire chooses to buy an RV and drive off into the sunset (at a slow speed) to go fishing, and if ALL 35,000 of the American kids who graduate sign up for what should be a “pick your job” kind of career, that still leaves an enormous hole of 121,000 empty cubicles:
With China and India rapidly producing so much fresh engineering talent, it doesn't take Sam Walton to see where this is all going. Like everything else today, it is going offshore, building up the economies of those countries as it tears down ours.
And, do we really want the Chinese designing our airplanes? Nothing against the Chinese – I love their food – but what happens when they get pissed off at us and decide that they'll stop building our stuff someday...just because. We're screwed, that's what.

While I do not claim to be an economics guru, some things are really easy to figure out. We need to do whatever it takes to reverse this trend of less and less young people choosing aerospace engineering as a career path, especially girls and young women. If it means not bombing a couple of innocent countries for a few years so we can free up those billions to offer thousands of free scholarships, let's do it.

Because smart young minds should not be wasted. Today's late teens and twentysomethings are tomorrow's whiz kids who are charged with keeping America's proud aerospace community up and running. If we ever let those jobs be shipped to Bangladesh, brother, we're toast.

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