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Engineering Workforce Dynamics In The Global Economy

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Global Engineering in an Interconnected World

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.559.1 - 9.559.10



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Paper Authors

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Bethany Oberst

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Russel Jones

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session xxxx

Canaries in the mineshaft: engineers in the global workplace

Bethany S. Oberst, Ph.D., James Madison University and Russel C. Jones, Ph.D., P.E., World Expertise LLC


We need to get beyond the overheated rhetoric about the offshoring of jobs and look seriously at how engineers and the engineering profession want to live and act in society. This article outlines the current debate about the migration of jobs overseas and the dismemberment of engineering and technology jobs into commodifiable pieces. It is written so as to provide a cross-section of information sources for the reader interested in pursuing the topics further, but may also be read without attention to the footnotes.


A few years ago when concerns were being raised about the impact of the global marketplace on the employment of US engineers, the authors drafted a paper entitled “Are current engineering graduates being treated as commodities by employers?” 1 We questioned whether engineering in the United States was still an attractive profession offering productive and satisfying careers and lifestyles. One of the important problems we noted was the churning in engineering employment, with more experienced engineers living under the constant threat of being replaced by younger, more recent graduates, and with little consideration being given to acquired knowledge, mature judgment, proven dedication to the larger enterprise, and such. 2

Since that paper was first drafted many factors have rapidly converged and conspired to change both the world and the discussion about the dynamics of engineering employment: • the world economy remains fragile and volatile, but increasingly integrated across national borders; 3 • cheap, instantaneous global communication has made international markets and an international workforce a functioning reality; 4 • huge pressure for profits has resulted in US industry engaging in out-sourcing by off-shoring significant numbers of technical jobs, while at the same time demanding increased innovation and creativity in engineering work and services at home; 5 • the media have made “off-shoring” the crisis du jour, and politicians are embracing it in their campaign rhetoric; 6 • threats of terrorism are world-wide and are cited as a reason for more restrictive US immigration practices which have affected the international student population and the intake of highly-skilled technical personnel; 7 • applications to US universities from international students, long a mainstay of engineering enrollments at both undergraduate and graduate levels, are deteriorating while at the same

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Oberst, B., & Jones, R. (2004, June), Engineering Workforce Dynamics In The Global Economy Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--12784

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2004 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015