As an executive, one of my biggest headaches is finding and hiring talent. Other integrators have felt the same gap of skills and the few specialized engineers available come at a high price. I knew my headache was legitimate when I saw Bloomberg’s report yesterday (Jan 24th), that the United States has fallen out of the Top 10 Countries for Innovation. Meanwhile, Israel ranked # 10 and South Korea remained #1.

Back in 2015, Forbes listed out the Top 10 Countries with the Most Engineering Graduates. Three years ago, we were in second place with 237,826 graduates a year. #1 was Russia, with twice as many engineers. I did not locate an updated, reliable report; however, if our engineer graduates remained the same or increased, then bodies aren’t the issue.  Why aren’t we innovating like we used to? The genesis lies in our educational system.

Security, as I explained in my previous article, is a multi-discipline area; highly specialized. It requires hands-on training. When we hire a new graduate from impressive school X we find ourselves training him for 9-12 months before he is able to go out into the field and produce on his own. Some training is expected, but it points to a deficiency in the educational system.

Historically, with each industrial revolution, public education has evolved to match the jobs available. Somewhere along the way, liberal (or traditional) education was deemed superior. Perhaps it was the development of virtual infrastructures, or maybe the movement of manufacturing to overseas locations. Regardless of the factors, the respect for vocational training needs a revival.

Starting with the K-12 curriculums, there is a heavy emphasis on theory and traditional (or liberal) education. To be clear, our industry needs engineers with excellent communication skills. Problem solving and solution creation start as a concept. The critical thinking skills are a must; however, that must be coupled with the practical skill sets to match. In high school, I had a teacher pull me aside. He told me “I know you don’t like reading and all that. But you love math and physics. Go for engineering” How many teachers encourage students to play to their strengths instead of constantly trying to fit a square peg (the student) into a round hole (liberal arts education)? Where have the woodshop classes gone? What about the other disciplines, like welding, HVAC, plumbing, etc.? These industries, like ours, are fueled by technical education. Technical or vocational education has a negative connotation of low income or low intelligence. Consequently, students in high school are told ‘Don’t enroll in that VoTech class, focus your attention on getting a high SAT score’.  Cybersecurity, an emerging section of our industry, is facing a 2 million job shortage, meaning the positions needed outpace the talent available.  Those positions need to be filled by problem solvers, who have been trained on the specific programs, coding, and the hardware.

The beginning of this change has started with STEM courses being emphasized in the public schools. In 2014, it was estimated by the DOE that only 50% of high schools offered higher mathematics or multiple tracks for the sciences. Those statistics fueled several state and federal initiatives. Going further, high school students need to be given all options equally. Based on the job market demands and their interests, technical education should be given equal consideration from students, counselors, and parents; our country’s economy and innovation depend on it.

What are your experiences with technical vs traditional education? Do you have any thoughts to add about the talent shortage? Leave them and any comments below!