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gtae07

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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.

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.
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.
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.

Now the c suite is made up of bean counters and their financialization schemes versus investing in R&D and product development.
Agreed. The corporate "leadership" all too often focuses only on "what will jack up the share price the most this quarter?"

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?
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.

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.
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.
 

viva_peru

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Nice response. I work for one of the larger automakers we have had good luck attracting engineers who are interested in autonomous vehicles and electrification. We have several Boeing transplants and a few other that came from the defense industry as well (think radars and sensors). My general sense is that a lot of the new engineers that have been hired as smart and motivated. There might be one or two that do not fit the description but it is unfair to the rest to lump them all in the same category.
 

cblink.007

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The solution to fix this lack of talent and capacity in aerospace??? Fear not, I have it right here:

Young children should be started off in building model airplanes at five and six years old, their imagination sparked because some handsome guy just flew across the ocean, and trust me they'll be awestruck that they can build a flying model of that same airplane for a dime.

Then we need to make sure these children keep building bigger and bigger model airplanes, eventually they might grow up to be pilots and junior engineers during a world war, and help win that war.

Then, as they become more experienced older engineers, we should be sure that they can use slide rules and drafting tables to design and build the highest and fastest flying airplanes in history... we should help them work in a big building with a skunk painted on the wall.

Other groups of these former model airplane builders should be encouraged use the same slide rules and drafting tables, to build rockets that might fly to the moon.

I'm telling you, the solution to the problem at hand, and the future of aerospace, is sitting right there in front of us...

95747.jpg
Boom, brother. You hit the nail on the head. My first experience with models was a small snap-tite (kudos to those who know the term) Space Shuttle. I eventually progressed to making my own free-flight models, dabbled in Cox U-Control models (where I got my first exposure to engine maintenance on that little 0.049 screamer), and eventually progressed into R/C race cars and later, aircraft.

ARF was a rarity, even in the early 90s. One still had to build up from a kit. ARF's in my opinion, take away from the experience of building, and as a result, you lose the appreciation for the structure and the effort. I will admit that my learned how to be a mechanic by building up and maintaining that RC-10 off-road car...but model airplanes taught me how to be meticulous. Transitioning to a full-scale car and aircraft was made incredibly easier, as I already had a firm grasp of the fundamentals of mechanical nomenclature, tools, soldering, etc.

Burt Rutan spoke at an AMA convention some years ago. He lamented the absence of Midwest Woods at the convention by saying "how are the kids supposed to tinker and learn?" to a huge round of applause. His entire presentation can be found here:



Now, @Mad MAC and @PiperCruisin and @viva_peru are also spot on correct in their assertion that graduates nowadays have a skill set. I am not denying that one bit. Many have some amazing talents, namely in 3D design and more advanced computer modeling with programs such as CATIA, SolidWorks, MATLAB et al. They know more about 3D design than I will EVER know...and I am pumped up about that! One of my younger Bell colleagues, a stress & fracture analyst, just joined the FreeCAD development group on his spare time.

However, the expertise in these relatively newer areas came at a terrible cost- that of practical hands-on skills, as they were never formally introduced to it.

In my earlier post, I did not mean to accidently imply that the one engineer in my EAA chapter represents THE problem; I was fixing to say that he represents a known concern with government engineers in my community of flight test & evaluation. Furthermore, yes, I stated that we "senior folk" do not have the time to teach these people. I stand by that only in the context of this particular community, especially given who the industry hand-picks to make it happen in the high-stakes flight test community, compared to who the USG selects. Way too big a talent gap. If I was back at the main plant, I know for fact that I would interface with alot of "fresher" personnel, and rightfully so. One must start somewhere and work their way up; flight test is simply not the place for beginners.
 
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PiperCruisin

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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.
I've seen a lot of manufacturing go overseas. The US is a capable manufacturer, but has not been trending the right way for decades. Aerospace is a bit of an outlier.

I think we agree on about everything and can relate to most of what you are saying. The scenarios you describe, I've been through them more than once. I could write a book about it.

I'm basically the guy that gets permanently shoe-horned into the specialty role. If there is no hope of going up, I'll leave and at least find something new and interesting to work on, especially out of self-preservation if the job is at risk due to whatever reason (poor management decisions, "synergy", end of project, "badge on the table"/ethics moment, economic shift, outsourcing, etc.). I'm currently about 1 inch from starting a new cycle.

I doubt Boeing is any different, but would be curious what their specific problems were. The 737 Max issues are telling, but nothing I haven't seen before.
 

Wanttaja

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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.
This was my experience. Most of the engineers I worked with *liked* engineering, and had no desire to "upgrade" to the management ranks. Relatively few of the engineers I worked with moved up, and there were two men who transferred back to the engineering ranks from management.

I was the mentor for a new engineer in ~2007; by the time I retired, she was management and I was working for her. Good engineer, good manager. She's been promoted to the executive ranks since.

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)".
Another problem is companies like Boeing subcontracting more and more work. Young engineers end up supervising contracts rather than doing the hands-on work themselves. This is not what they went into engineering for.

Ron Wanttaja
 

PiperCruisin

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Another problem is companies like Boeing subcontracting more and more work. Young engineers end up supervising contracts rather than doing the hands-on work themselves. This is not what they went into engineering for.
Did that too. Had engineers in India and Romania working for me. Nothing against them, but it is hard to check and assign/manage work for more than 3-4 while still doing other tasks. You still have issues like training and retention.
 

Wanttaja

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I've seen a lot of manufacturing go overseas. The US is a capable manufacturer, but has not been trending the right way for decades. Aerospace is a bit of an outlier.
But very true for projects like the 787...there's a LOT of subcontracting to overseas companies, including Japan, Italy, Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and France. Something like 45 companies.

This hit hard in the development of the 787; there were differences in interpretation and a lack of understanding what was expected. The rollout for the first 787 was delayed, but even when it finally happened, it was just a thrown-together mishmash with absolutely no prospect of an imminent first flight.


Ron Wanttaja
 

PiperCruisin

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The rollout for the first 787 was delayed, but even when it finally happened, it was just a thrown-together mishmash with absolutely no prospect of an imminent first flight.

I like Burt Rutan's "Question. Don't defend." Too many are trying to put positive spin and meet deadlines on a project without immediately reacting to the consequences of previous decisions. Burt was basically saying that if there was something wrong with the design, they were going to own up to it and fix it as priority #1. To much ignoring the problem in the hopes it will go away and kicking the can down the road.

Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale said "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end, which you can never afford to lose, with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be." Stockdale Paradox
 
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This is a very tough topic. My opinion is that to be a good engineer, and even more so to be a good designer requires the ability to visualize the details, assemblies, and Installations entirely in the minds eye. Being able to actually see the interfaces, the effects of tolerance stacking, and ease of inspection, maintenance and use allows ingenious solutions and implementation.
After retiring with more than 50 years in all aspects of the aerospace industry I think that "dirty work" is viewed with terror by most in the last couple of generations. Failure to grind thought these types of jobs results in only the rare "natural talent" to be highly useful.
I used to ask all the new engineers if they had ever drilled into a finger. The results were quite predictable.
Obviously model builders, especially those from very early childhood, have an advantage...but even my grandkids were not allowed to try...sharp knives might cut them! Sooner cut, sooner learned, and the better the skill sets developed.
 
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C.D. Donald

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My last simulator/training partner had been an engineer at Boeing and he said much the same negative things to say about the McD-D takeover. So he decided to pursue flying instead and has had a good career at it, fortunately.

I have to wonder who - what company - will fill the void Boeing is creating...? Who will compete with Airbus?
 

blane.c

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I wouldn't get on an Airbus, now maybe it is better choice. How sick is that? And going after corporate raiders is illegal how sick is that? I can't print what I think, or what I think should be done. It would be illegal. Considering this is the United States Of America, How sick is that?

I saw not long ago that a Man representing himself as a journalist for a national syndication asked what more we could do to suppress journalism/free speech in regards to Russia sending disinformation about elections. I can only suppose we are to stupid to dispose ourselves. Go ahead get rid of me, how sick is that?
 
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AeroER

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Tells me all I need to know about Boeing.
Go to the Boeing web site to look at the world wide distributions of sites and employees.

Never make the mistake of thinking Boeing is a US company, it's an international company with no more loyalty to the US than any nation. Nowadays the "diversity" mantra virtually forbids the notion.

 
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