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Survey results confirm ME role is changing.


In June, we presented a summary of some enthusiastic views we'd gathered of an exciting new era of opportunity ahead for manufacturing engineers. With their companies crunched by world competition, top managements are awakening to the potential advantages and benefits to be gained from turning to MEs--their expertise, input, and insight--to help hone manufacturing into a truly competitive weapon.

Is the ME role about to expand greatly and grow in statute? Are those of you who feel like second-class citizens in your company's engineering protocol about to get star billing? Heady stuff, if true, but is this really happening?

To find out, we presented a deliberately glorified picture in our June article, and then asked for your reaction. Our accompanying survey questionnaire hoped to document this trend. We needed some statistical verification on whether this was an isolated pipe dream or truly a trend.

The results were gratifying--a vast majority of you agree that there are big changes occurring already (or coming shortly) in your role, and that you are feeling very upbeat about that challenge. Both in the number of replies (1200 and still growing) and the personal comments contained on those forms, we seem to have proven our premise--and struck a nerve.

There is a danger, of course, that these responses could not be fully representative--that we heard from too many enthusiasts and not enough yawners and disbelievers. The more positive your reaction to the article, the more likely you took the time to fill out the form and send it in. Yet, the range of responses and diversity of opinions expressed seem to indicate that we caught the full spectrum of feeling out there on these issues. (And we'll be sharing those wide-ranging personal viewpoints with you in later articles.) It is, therefore, with great confidence that we plow ahead and attempt to make sense from this healthy chunk of data.

Survey highlights

Before we detail the results, question-by-question, here are some of the more interesting conclusions of the survey:

* On the basic issue of how you feel about the challenge of the changing ME role, 69% of you said you are stimulated by it, 17% are lukewarm to the idea (no big deal, I can handle it), 9% are wary, 2% scared stiff, and 3% noncommittal.

* Although nearly two thirds of you (62%) said top management does not employ ME thinking in their strategic planning, 77% of you said you give them your support anyway. Even among those who feel MEs are held in lower esteem than other engineers, 65% still support top management.

* Half of an respondents said their companies are experiencing either major or noticeable resentment between white and blue-collar employees over the issue of productivity.

* Half of all replies reported computerization moving too slowly to suit them, and 32% said what they have installed has shown either no improvement in process productivity or actually hindered it. A similar 31% said the same goes for the computer's effect on their own productivity.

* A nearly unanimous 99% feel they can contribute major competitive advantages, given the opportunity.

* When we asked how much you could save your company annually, given the cost-cutting opportunity, an enthused 81% named amounts of $100,000 or more (15% said over $1 million).

* Similarly enthused, 91% welcome the broadening of the ME role.

* A confident 63% have no worries about job loss, but the remainder of you expressed either personal or family concerns.

Basic demographics

All data is based on the first 800 replies (at that point, all stats were stable to a fraction of a percentage point). Average age was 42 (median age = 40.8) and average length of ME experience was 15 yr. The formal-education spectrum was: Master's degree, 14%; Bachelor degree, 48%, Associate degree, 24%; and high school, 14%. Plant size averaged 840, although the median size was only 300. Regional distribution was: East, 27%, Central 46%, South 14%, and West 13%.


In reviewing these results and trying to be as objective as we can (keeping in mind that we're not research experts), we came to the following conclusions:

* It is gratifying to hear that over half of you feel MEs are already held in high or equal esteem, yet not surprising that nearly half feel ignored. This is a key first step in MEs playing a more effective role--recognition by company peers and particularly top management. In turn, management should be somewhat gratified to learn that most of you still trust them to lead the company, even if they have not been listening to you so far.

* The whistle-blowing results were very hard to believe. With nearly everyone blowing whistles at the slightest provocation, how do you get anything done over all that racket? (Or, maybe this was a dumb question on our part, as some suggested.) Although there were somewhat fewer whistle tooters for the more subjective case of deciding what's ethical and what isn't (88%), the nearly unanimous group (95%) who claim they will whistle dead any quality deviation is simply not borne out in practice. If true, quality would not be an issue in the US.

* Our question on increasing your equipment selection/justification role should have had a third choice beyond yes or no for those of you well satisfied with your present situation. As it was, the no votes included both the disinterested and the satisfied, as your separate comments indicated.

* If the cost-cutting numbers can be believed (and the overlap ignored, when two or more MEs try to save the same company the same dollars), the potential savings are enormous. With an estimated 80,000 or so MEs in the US times $339,000 each, that's a $27-billion annual improvement in US competitiveness to be had for the asking. Even if it's not really that huge, it's still far too big to be ignored any longer by top management.

* There's strong sentiment for fully compensating MEs for training expenses (84%) because you feel the company will clearly benefit, versus splitting expenses (10%) because the ME personally benefits when earning advanced degrees. Of course, the company will rebut that they might lose you to a competitor, to which you can reply, "Not if the opportunity is here!".

Support for management is somewhat higher here, 79% versus 72%, but desire (or need) to play a greater role in decisions is lower, 45% to 56%. A larger group wish to speed up computerization: 52% versus 45%, and the overall enthusiasm for their changing role is higher, 75% versus 68%.

Educational differences

One clear relationship that emerged was that enthusiasm for saving the company money increases directly with education: estimated annual savings ranged from the high-school group's average of $276,000 to the masters group's $459,000. The high-school group is also lower in concern about the relative esteem of MEs in the company: only 32% sense a lower status among other engineers in the company compared to 43% of the masters group. They are also slightly less perturbed about the speed of computerization, but twice as worried about the computer cutting into their personal time.

The masters group has the least confidence in top management: only 69% give them their support, versus the 83% vote of confidence the generally younger associate-degreed group gave their leaders. The bachelor- and masters-degreed groups expressed more confidence in their own ability to create major competitive advantage: 66% versus 58% for the associate degreed and high-school people.

Surprisingly, the masters crowd expressed the highest proportion of job insecurity--25% versus only 16% for the associate degreed. Perhaps, they feel their ideas will fall on deaf ears, and their companies will do poorly despite their own best efforts.

Regional variation

Among some minor regional statistical anomalies, the western plants (thanks to some huge aircraft facilities) averaged nearly twice the size of eastern plants. Fewer in the South report low ME esteem (30% versus 40% elsewhere) and less than 2% in the West feel MEs are held in high esteem, versus 11% elsewhere. Career-growth opportunities are highest in the South (36% said they were increasing) and lowest in the East (24%). Major shop-floor resentments about pay are highest in the East (8%) and lowest in the South (4%), but major resentment about productivity is high in the South (14%), and highest in the East (16%), twice that of the West.

Management support is significantly weaker in the West, only 66% versus the East and Central's 78% and the South's 82%. Twice as many expressed whistle-blowing inhibitions in the South than in the Central group. Job security is highest in the South (73%) and lowest in the East (54%). Enthusiasm for the changing ME role is lower in the Central region (65%) than elsewhere (73%).

Coming soon

Over 40% of you added personal comments to the questionnaire form, and nearly one fourth offered names and phone numbers for personal interviews. In subsequent articles, we will be exploring and expounding on these personal situations, separating the true believers from the heretics, matching the enthusiasm of the young against the experiences of the old, and examining what those New Age MEs who've arrived can offer those struggling to get there.

As we said in June, the subject of your changing role is as important to us as it is to you, and we intend to explore it with you fully.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:manufacturing engineer
Author:Sprow, Eugene E.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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