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Saying that there’s a STEM shortage in the United States is an oversimplification. It ignores the fact that all STEM careers are not created equal. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out, while there is a shortage of electrical engineering PhDs, for example, there is a commensurate oversupply of biology PhDs. And though it would be an exaggeration to say that there is a shortage of trained STEM professionals in all fields, it is certainly not an exaggeration to say that the field of engineering is in crisis.

Simply put: there are not enough engineers, and that’s a huge problem. Nearly everything that you could conceivably touch or wear on your body as your read this article was either designed, reviewed, or manufactured by an individual with a connection to the engineering discipline. A shortage of engineers means that a vital pipeline for the innovation and manufacturing of new products has been considerably narrowed. What are the dimensions of this problem, and how should manufacturers cope?

Finding the Edges of the Engineering Crisis

In a survey by Aberdeen Group, it was discovered that 62% of businesses found that their ability to design and deliver new products was hampered by an engineering shortage. A study from the Brookings Institution shows that vacancies in the engineering field stay open for twice as long as those in any other field. Many companies are now in favor of raising the H-1B visa cap in order to import engineers from foreign countries.

This shortage is borne out anecdotally. For example, the Massachusetts robotics company iRobot will now spend up to three months searching for each technical hire they make — and up to a year for specialized roles. They are now paying up to $80,000 a year for hires just out of college, in a market where companies are experiencing rapid staff turnover. Only the companies with the deepest pockets and most attractive benefits will be able to fully staff themselves. But what about everyone else?

If You Can’t Hire More Engineers, Augment the Ones You’ve Got

It’s clear that not every company can afford to hire a large stable of well-paid engineers. Worse still, understaffed companies are running themselves up against an additional problem — products are becoming more complicated. Per the Aberdeen Group survey, 40% of companies believe that products are becoming more complex — and 34% of them believe that the complexity is due to increasing software requirements.

How are companies going to cope with the challenge of building more complicated products using fewer engineers? The most successful companies invest in a tool that allows a single engineer to amplify their speed and skill — namely, product simulation.

Best-In-Class companies follow a few axioms of product simulation. As a rule, they simulate early in the design process, allowing themselves the largest amount of freedom to explore alternative designs and materials. They also find solutions that fit the people and challenges they’re facing by employing simulation products that mirror their internal design processes. Lastly, they design, test, and design again — enforcing tight collaborations between the relevant teams.

Simulation is a great force multiplier for workplaces strapped for engineering resources, but it has to be used correctly to truly make up the gap. For more information on how Best-In-Class companies use simulation to augment the workforce, check out the Aberdeen report, “Simulation-Integrated Product Development: Achieving More With Less.”

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