The New Sputnik?

Dec. 1, 2008
John Berra, chairman at Austin, Texas-based automation vendor Emerson Process Management (, has no concerns about the motivation levels of the current generation of young engineers.

“One thing I hear a lot is a tendency to kind of knock today’s younger engineers as being laggards and slackers and that kind of thing,” says Berra. “But I actually think that’s nonsense. I don’t see it at all. I see bright, young, hardworking, stay-late, come-early, tell-me-how-I-can-learn, kind of people.” And that goes for engineers that Emerson hires anywhere around the globe, be it the United States, India, Russia or the Philippines, he states.

That said, Berra concedes that there is a continuing shortage of good automation engineers. But he’s got an idea for how to attract more young engineers into the field.

Industry’s “product positioning,” he suggests, “should be around the whole subject of energy—finding it, developing it and being more energy efficient in the things we do.” Today’s younger engineers do want to make a difference, he observes, and that’s definitely one area where they can do so.

Berra, an engineer himself, even likens today’s energy situation to that of a major catalyst that sparked a new national focus on math and science for the baby boom generation—the Russian launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in 1957. “For today’s generation, this energy crisis could very well be the equivalent of Sputnik, because that was really a rallying point for the engineering profession,” he concludes. 

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