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Investing in technology--the real challenge.

People in the United States have a love affair with technology. We like to have the latest multi-pixel digital cameras, the latest drivetrain and suspension features in our cars, the fastest clockspeeds in our computers, the smallest MP3 players, and on and on. Our kitchens are full of gizmos that promise culinary excellence--in spite of the fact that we all eat out more.

These advances in technology come about because someone, some government, or some company took a leap of faith and invested in an idea that paid off in a commercially-successful product or service. The American dream fully realized.

The financial investments necessary to keep our economy the world leader have resulted in many successes. Some of those investments have been by foreign companies that had a vision of a market for a product that a U.S. company couldn't visualize, but nonetheless U.S. citizens and those in other countries benefit from the product when it becomes available in the marketplace.

One investment area that needs more consideration is the educating and developing of home grown scientists and engineers to keep the U.S. contribution to worldwide technology growth as strong as it now is. Let me cite some statistics from a recent National Science Foundation study (available at http://

* 44 to 48 percent of all patents filed in the U.S. annually belong to foreign inventors.

* In the U.S., doctorates earned by U.S. native-born or naturalized citizens have grown more slowly than the growth of the civilian labor force.

* More than half of U.S. citizens with science or engineering degrees are 40 years of age or older, and the total is not being replenished with younger degreed people.

* Since 1990, bachelor's degrees in engineering have declined by 8 percent and degrees in mathematics have dropped by about 20 percent.

* Foreign students with temporary visas represent half of all graduate enrollment in engineering, math, and computer sciences.

These data can be interpreted that the U.S. faces serious problems in the coming years in raising home-grown talent in the science and engineering fields. As current personnel in these fields move towards retirement their places are increasingly being taken by foreign-born non-U.S, citizens who may or may not choose to continue living here. If these people elect to return to their native countries, then we may experience a brain drain to go along with our dollar drain, our manufacturing drain, and our current account drain.

The United States has long welcomed foreigners to our shores, and, in spite of 9/11, we will continue to do this. As our reliance on foreign-born scientists and engineers increases, we can only hope that they encounter a hospitable environment that encourages them to settle here and become citizens.

Another study was recently conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas about the same lime as the NSF study. The Dallas Fed study broke down categories of work performed in a "hierarchy of human talents." This hierarchy takes into consideration not just "book learning" but so-called "soft" skills such as people skills, emotional intelligence, imagination, and creativity.
Some examples of jobs created in these categories from 1994
to 2004 are:

1. People skills and emotional intelligence New Jobs

 Financial services 248,000
 Recreation workers 37,000
 Registered nurses 512,000
 Lawyers 182,000
 Educational/vocational counselors 48,000

2. Imagination and creativity New Jobs
 Actors and directors 59,000
 Architects 60,000
 Designers 230,000
 Photographers 49,000
 Hair stylists & cosmetologists 146,000

3. Analytic reasoning New Jobs
 Legal assistants 59,000
 Medical scientists 22,000
 Electronic engineers 147,000
 Metallurgical engineers -2,000
 Computer operators -387,000

4. Formulaic intelligence New Jobs
 Bookkeepers -247,000
 Cost & rate clerks -16,000
 Secretaries & typists 1,305,000
 Telephone operators -98,000
 Health record technicians -36,000

5. Manual dexterity New Jobs
 Tool & die makers -30,000
 Butchers -67,000
 Lathe operators -30,000
 Sewing machine operators -347,000
 Typesetters -34,000

6. Muscle power New Jobs
 Garbage collectors -2,000
 Stevedores -3,000
 Farm workers -182,000
 Fishing workers -14,000
 Timber cutters -25,000

You might argue with "which jobs belong in which categories." My purpose in presenting the data from the National Science Foundation and the Dallas Federal Reserve is to suggest that, perhaps, jobs in science and engineering are not perceived by talented young U.S citizens as having enough opportunities to utilize people skills, emotional intelligence, imagination, and creativity. As a result, job growth in those areas lags. If this is the perception, I would say it's not an accurate one based upon the skills I have seen employed by talented people in the science and engineering fields.

Maybe that famous bugaboo television has a role to play in all of this. After all, how many TV shows glamorize the life of a tool and die maker or a lathe operator compared with those that idolize lawyers and people in hospital settings? With the growing number of actors and directors, let's hope that it's only a matter of time until grinding surfaces to plus or minus one tenth becomes the plot line for a new TV series.

Mike Whitney is a principal at Creative Strategies, a market research firm specializing in sales and marketing strategies for metalworking manufacturers. Check the website for current updates to the Heavy Metal Index of 40 Manufacturing Companies that invest in capital equipment, and for access to key online Economic Resources for Manufacturing.
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Title Annotation:Behind the numbers
Author:Whitney, Mike
Publication:Tooling & Production
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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