Wish for 2012: More Engineers in Executive Suites

“On the Edge” is an insightful blog on manufacturing operations, management and leadership in the packaging industry written by Keith Campbell. A change in the dialogue on technical education and more engineers as executives top his Christmas wish list for manufacturing.

Today I had a long discussion with a gentleman conducting research on manufacturing and manufacturing automation. After covering a myriad of topics from the need for low cost open control systems to the negative influences of government policy on manufacturing (especially in California), he brought our discussion to a close by asking me a question; "If I could ask for any two things to improve manufacturing, what two things would they be?" I decided to share my wishes with you as my Manufacturing Christmas List.

First, I wish for a change to our national dialog on the topic of higher education. Because our dialog reveres university bachelor degrees, we send far too many students down the wrong path only to have many of them fail along the way. Too many students drop out, incur unmanageable debt, or obtain degrees for which no jobs exist; all while we continue to lower educational standards to serve the masses.

If our dialog also revered education leading to the development of technical skills, we would develop better operators and technicians and better scientists, engineers, teachers and business leaders. A simple change in our dialog, similar to that during World War II and the Cold War Space Race, would lead to our building the human infrastructure necessary for a vibrant manufacturing economy.

My second wish is to see more engineers and scientists in the executive suites of our businesses and in the halls of our government.

An old adage says that one manages what one understands. When our institutions are run by marketers, financiers and lawyers, no one is managing the technology. Technological advances drive economies. Somehow we've come to believe that we can drive an economy by shuffling the deck chairs. We can't.

When I came to manufacturing, engineers were represented throughout the ranks of management, all the way to the chairman of the board. Technological development of both products and processes was being actively managed. Today's executives think they can outsource technology management and offshore manufacturing. Both are prescriptions for failure.

Of course, there a few smaller items that could be put in my Christmas stocking, like financial regulatory reform, a common sense energy policy, or workable immigration reform. These would help manufacturing too. But the two big gifts to be wrapped up for under the tree are a change in our national dialog regarding higher education and better representation in executive suites of scientists and engineers. Santa, I've been a good boy this year.

Keith Campbell, kc@ontheedgeblog.com, writes about packaging operations, management and leadership at www.onthedgeblog.com

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