Sunday, February 15, 2009


The age of high value engineering and manufacturing (where a group of engineers designed a high-tech product and multiplied the value with each product manufactured) that created high income jobs for engineers and operations in the US, is over. Manufacturing moved overseas where labor was plentiful and cheap. And that was so beneficial at cutting costs that engineering was moved overseas as well. The global financial crash has ended the demand for a new generation of high tech products, further eroding the demand for design jobs in the US. The days of high paying engineering jobs in the US appear to be ending.

We hear that the US is now in the information age and internet skills are highly valued. We know that some people have made a lot of money from the internet and “digital products.” But how many of these people are there really? Over the past 20 years, we've met hundreds of people wealthy from their engineering skills. We have yet to meet many people wealthy from the information age. All the social networks and information sites we use are free and it is unclear how these services will be profitable in the long run. We do however, still pay handsomely for our high tech products being manufactured in Asia.

So far, the information age economy doesn't look like it is going to replace the high paying engineering jobs the US has lost. We hope we are wrong, but we think that the jobs (with big salaries, stock options, and bonuses), that we enjoyed over the past decades, will be staying in Asia . Those high income jobs that moved overseas are now creating a critical mass of tech-savvy, entrepreneurial engineers in Asia that are likely to become the global technology leaders of the future. After our review of the products that are widely used in Japan today we could easily argue they are already ahead.

As we contemplate our future, we wonder what value old engineers like us, have in this post-US-tech economy. Our conclusion is that we need to learn new skills and new languages. Instead of FORTRAN, PL1, C++, and Java, we need to know how to converse in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Bahasa Malaysia . That way at least we can keep up with the new technologies being developed in Asia and have the potential to provide services. At a minimum having Asian language skills might get us a job in the tourist industry serving the growing number of wealthy Asians vacationing in the US. We are using our fear about this global economic crisis to motivate us to push through our substantial discomfort of learning new languages and growing new skills for an age where the US is no longer the global technology leader.


larry said...

guess we would have to know what is considered "wealthy" to evaluate this post.

i know hundreds of people who's work is all about the internet making between $80,000 and $220,000 a year.

100% of my income comes from the internet and is the higher range shown above, so i do not see this lack of good paying jobs.

as for learning new skills/languages that always is a must to keep ahead and in demand. if i was still trying to code in basic or assembler and use cpm i would be out of work.

Anonymous said...

The Americas have all the land and resources needed to sustain and keep ahead of the machine. The high tech industries will come and go. Resources is the next big industry. No one can beat us at this except ourselves. We need to focus our efforts on all of the Americas and invest in future growth potentials. Unfortunately the Asian and European countries are more forward thinking and are investing heavily in these areas and we are getting pushed out even in the Americas. Americans are going too South and Central America to retire and in some areas it is the biggest retirement community outside of the US (a little known secret). So even our retirement money is going out of the country. The good news is that at least it is staying in the Americas.

Devany said...

Aloha, welcome to hilo. It sounds like you are contemplating some serious things. My hilo blog is a bit more domestic in nature, but I enjoyed reading yours.


Victoria Hokulani said...

I saw a fascinating documentary the other day about the giant and enormously talented basketball player Ying Mao. Without his American translator he would have never been able to navigate our crazy culture. All, I could think was that translator was one smart dude. What a fantastic job he landed, too. He and Ying were inseparable with their tight emotional bond. The translator got to live Yings whirlwind fame laden life, vicariously, a got a big kick out of it but kept Ying grounded at the same time.
I am sure your son has a fabulous future ahead of him being fluent in Japanese. You guys are nearly prophetic in your sense of where we are going as a nation. Seeing that Japan and China own our okole with all the US T bills they are holding, it is a darn good idea to learn everything about those cultures and languages. I hear you, though, on the dread of learning new languages. Better just to go immerse yourself and learn them on the fast track plan, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Japan's economy shrank at an annual pace of 12.7 percent in the last three months of 2008.

Exports during the quarter dropped a record 13.9 percent, as global demand evaporated for Japanese cars and electronics. Major companies such as Toyota and Sony have posted record losses, halted production in many factories and ordered widespread layoffs.

So not sure how they are leaders and I recall hearing in the 1980's how Japan was going to take over everything and it never happened.

I actually see manufacturing returning to the U.S. as prices drop globally and it becomes viable again to manufacture in the United States.

But then again I always see good times ahead!

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