I'm not convinced that issues at Boeing and other companies is a lack of talent. If I say today's engineers aren't as good as those of previous generations then it smacks of old person talk. I think today's engineers are better at some things and worse at others.
I would agree with that part.
Here I'll disagree. Most engineers I know--at all levels, and in all fields--are perfectly happy remaining in technical roles. At least, so long as there's a future for them there.The real problem, IMHO, is that few people are actively in technical roles. Most engineers are scrambling to get out of technical roles and into other roles because it is not valued by upper management.
From what I gather, many places used to work on a model where the only possible way of moving up after a few years on the job was to go into management. And that's not just in engineering; it seems to have been (or still is) a very common setup at lots of different companies. I remember talking to my grandfather years ago (who was a machinist at Ford after 26 years in the Army) and he was just totally confused that (a) I wasn't already in management, and (b) had no desire to go there either. Now, many places have realized that being a good "individual contributor" doesn't necessarily make you a good manager, and in an effort to keep their good technical staff on board have instituted career tracks for those people so they can advance and have incentive to stick around without shoehorning them into nontechnical roles. (as an aside, I had a few conversations with my mother-in-law who works in the corporate office of a well-known and very popular fast food chain. They had just instituted a similar policy and it was quite the eye-opener for them)
Anyway, I don't think all the engineers are clamoring for management--though as with any field in any industry, you're always going to find a few who are. Rather, I think there are two somewhat-related factors at play.
First, in many engineering fields, and (it seems) particularly at larger aerospace companies like Boeing, newly-hatched engineers start out in positions like "junior assistant small bracket designer, second class (probationary)". While there are lots of historical reasons for this (and a number of them even legitimate), that work can be mind-numbingly boring and rather unfulfilling (i.e., it's rather detrimental to job satisfaction, which is ultimately why most people stay at or leave a given job). Many young engineers come out of school fired up ready to change the world and take on big projects. Some of that is the schools pumping up their programs with unrealistic expectations (see that "we can do that!" convocation speech from a few years ago at GT) and some of it is seeing what junior folks are doing at smaller places (startups, SpaceX, etc). Most people (with the occasional snowflake aside) are willing to put up with an entry-level type position for a little while, but if they keep slogging it out without much changing, then even if their pay goes up and their job title advances, they're going to get dissatisfied if they're still doing nothing but churning out small brackets or tedious compliance reports several years down the road.
Now sure, some people don't care as long as they're getting paid, but unfortunately the young kids with fire in the belly, who want to work and make things happen, all too often get ground down and shut out by old-school practices and sclerotic bureaucracy. Just recently we lost a real promising young engineer with a good technical mind and great work ethic. He was always itching for work to do, and was doing more work than (and more competent than) some of the 20-year veterans of the department. But he was repeatedly told "no, you can't advance yet, you don't have enough time" and "no, you can't work that big project, do these simple repairs instead". Finally, after being told "ok, we can promote you but we can't give you a pay raise" while simultaneously the older guy who was well-known for doing nothing got promoted to a senior position (with attendant raise) because he was buddies with the boss, the young guy left. And management scratched its collective head saying "I don't understand, why did he leave?"
Making it worse is that, as the size of the company goes up, the harder it is for someone to break out of a really narrowly-focused position. Stay in the same place for a couple years because you're working a particular project and want to see it through, and next thing you know you're the expert in the internals of nosewheel steering system inter-unit communication. And nobody wants to hire you for anything else. I got lucky (in terms of job satisfaction) that I landed in a generalist position--though that my prove detrimental should I ever want/need to find another job, as most places make and want narrow specialists.
The related factor, particularly in aerospace/defense (A&D) but probably affecting other industries too, is that it's just not the glamorous field it used to be. A&D (particularly the largest well-known institutions) is seen as a stodgy, boring, bureaucratic, old white guy's field. Not as many kids grow up wanting to work in the field, and whereas places like NASA used to be able to pull in the best and brightest, those people are now chasing other "more interesting" fields--electric cars/aircraft, personal electronics, "green" tech, and so on. It's harder to attract and retain people when you're not in the hot new field. Just look at colleges--the computer, biomedical, environmental, etc. schools get the shiny new buildings lots of recruitment; aerospace is relegated to the old less-traveled portion of campus, with the old buildings and old lab equipment. It's clear where the demand and attention is.
Agreed. The corporate "leadership" all too often focuses only on "what will jack up the share price the most this quarter?"Now the c suite is made up of bean counters and their financialization schemes versus investing in R&D and product development.
The US (and western Europe, Japan, etc.) still builds stuff and does quite well at it, given the opportunity. Some stuff doesn't really get made here any more in any noticeable quantity becuase it's just not profitable any more for some products (especially the simple, high-volume stuff), others are now being made elsewhere because those other places caught up to the US (rather than the US falling behind). Some of the reasons start to trend into politics and I'm not going there.The US used to excel at building stuff. Now a "service" society. If you no longer build it, how would one know how to engineer it?
We spend too much time shuffling paper and complying with various corporate processes designed to generate "metrics" rather than actually do things. I'm only somewhat joking when I say my employer's primary product is paperwork and the airplanes just give us a justification to make more of it.most of their time is project management and drowning in the latest layer of "processes" devised by corporate kingdom builders to justify their existence or a lack of trust that ultimately wastes the time of technical engineers that are in shorter supply.