| A few weeks ago a high school student contacted me out of the blue. He had become familiar with me through one of my blog articles and asked, “What does it take to become a successful engineer?”
What followed was a nice conversation that covered the obvious and not so obvious. “It helps to have a knack for math and science,” I said. “Engineering school is tough, so focus and self discipline are also required,” I continued. Then I dove into a less often discussed area, how continuing improvements in communications and information technology are fueling global competition. But who doesn’t know that, right?
What many don’t know, however, is that this has opened the playing field wider than it’s ever been before, pitting engineers educated in the United States against their foreign counterparts and thereby driving the demand for U.S. trained engineers down. It’s not just customer service centers that are experiencing mass migrations to foreign shores.
“Global outsourcing has hit the engineering field hard,” I told him. The net result is that profit minded businesses in the U.S. are often opting to contract engineers, both domestic and foreign, on an as-needed basis rather than pay to acquire them as full time employees. Once the decision to contract rather than hire has been made, the next unit in the equation of profitability prompts the question, “Should we give the work to an engineer residing in the U.S. or one who lives abroad?” Often this is the defining question which then leads to the decision to work with engineers residing on foreign shores. Their cost of living is lower, and they’ll work for lower wages. It’s as simple as that.
What had up until that point been a pleasant conversation quickly took on the dark mantle of frank reality. I wished him luck in his career plans and our conversation ended.
All this got me thinking about Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. In a nutshell, Mr. Pink suggests that engineers who tend to think with their right brain lobe more than their left will be more likely to be in demand in the U.S. Never heard of the right-brained versus left-brained thinker? Read on.
Science has found that those who are dominated by left brain thinking tend to lack “peripheral vision” and business sense. They’re content with crunching numbers in formulas and cranking out massive amounts of tedious work, activities which don’t require much creativity. Innovation and thinking outside the box just aren’t their fortés. In other words they’re good worker bees, and this, unfortunately, makes them virtually interchangeable.
Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to replace left brained engineers with computer software. Many operations can be reduced to plugging numbers into software, which then spits out answers. And thanks to advances in telecommunications, it has become easier than ever to outsource the left brain dominated engineers’ formula-driven activities to other countries where the pay scale is lower.
Right brained people, on the other hand, tend to be artists and inventors. Science pegs them as being in tune with the big picture, including business savvy skills like innovating and synthesizing, developing strategies, managing projects, and leading others. Einstein made the observation that true genius lies in creativity, and he could add to this statement that it also goes a lot farther to guarantee job security.
So until we can invent a true thinking computer, you know, the Terminator type, engineers and other professionals who are required to use right brain skills will enjoy a greater degree of job security than their left brain dominated counterparts.
Mr. Pink offers three questions to those concerned with job security:
Answering yes to any of these could be hazardous to your long term career goals.