Last week during a speech about the job market, President Barack Obama talked about something that’s missing from our nation’s efforts to remain competitive in the global economy: engineers. He’s come up with a plan to create 10,000 engineers annually through a private-public partnership in which corporations would strengthen their internship programs and the government would help stabilize collegiate engineering programs while offering students the financial assistance needed to finish their degrees.
It’s definitely a well-intentioned idea, but Obama has his sights on the wrong target. He’s aiming a little too high. College students shouldn’t be the greatest concern. All of the incentives in the world won’t turn out engineers if high school students first aren’t interested in the subject.
When was the last time you heard a teenager say he or she wanted to be an engineer or scientist? Kids may say they do at a younger age (like 8 or 9) but as they age, science and math (the building blocks of engineering) don’t remain sexy to them. If a kid doesn’t have the slightest interest in this difficult yet rewarding path of study by the end of the 10th grade, there’s really no way to get him or her hooked on it, let alone prepared for what college holds.
In order to produce engineers we really have to get the kids started at a young age on mastering — even loving — science and math. As a country we do a very poor job of that. Depending on what study you read, American students typically rank in the low-to-mid 20s globally in those subjects. That’s why our influence is decreasing around the world: We aren’t making engineers, products and strides because we aren’t making science and math interesting and worthwhile.