Shortage of Engineers and Technicians

Nov. 1, 1981
A top level two-hour symposium on this subject was held on Wednesday, September 16, in conjunction with the Annual AFA National Convention held in Washington, D. C. Moderated by AFA’s Chairman of the Board, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Daniel F. Callahan, it consisted of fifteen-minute presentations by a blue-ribbon panel, followed by a question-and-answer period among the panel and the audience.

The lead-off panelist, Brig. Gen. Schuyler Bissell, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, provided statistical information on present and forecast engineer and technical training in the United States and the western world vis-à-vis the USSR. He pointed out that the central orchestration of Soviet scientific and technical manpower has produced a larger number of educated people, the sheer quantity of which has allowed them to make significant technical advances. The large Soviet resource pool of the 1990s will represent a formidable challenge to US superiority in science arid technology, even if major changes occur in Soviet educational philosophy.

The next panelist, former Air Force Systems Command Commander Gen. Alton D. Slay, USAF (Ret.), discussed the implications of the situation presented by General Bissell for United States productivity and security interests, particularly US ability to retain industrial and aerospace leadership into the future.

Dr. Norman Hackerman, President, Rice University, and Dr. Wilbur L. Meier, Jr., Dean, College of Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, spoke on how civilian educators view this situation and what is being done, can be done, and should be done throughout academia and specialized technical institutions to address this problem.

Lt. Gen. Andrew P. Iosue, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel, concluded the panel discussions by examining how the shortage of both engineers and technicians affects the military (especially the Air Force), and what our services are doing and plan to do about it.

Moderator Callahan summarized the presentations on the engineer and technician shortages as follows:

  • Begin interest in mathematics and the sciences and motivate students on these subjects as early as the fifth grade.
  • Improve the quality of the teachers and induce them to remain in the teaching institutions. This will require additional funds.
  • Colleges and universities should broaden their teaching and let the industries specialize and hone that training.
  • College laboratories should have more modern equipment and it should be maintained properly. Additional funding would also be required for this.
  • Interaction between the engineering colleges and universities and the armed services, including the laboratories, should be enhanced.
  • The stature and status of engineers should be recognized, and they should be better utilized.
  • Within the armed services, the forthcoming pay raise should help; however, special bonus privileges should be provided to engineers similar to those in the medical and legal fields.
  • Technicians who assist engineers should also be given greater attention in training, status, and utilization.
  • AFA chapter members should work with parents and civic organizations in their localities to get the message out. They could encourage local schools to provide quality basic teaching in mathematics and the sciences. The Air Force Junior ROTC and Civil Air Patrol could be good starting points.

Audience participation followed the symposium. Several current projects on the subject of the symposium were presented by individuals who are involved. In addition, challenging questions were posed to the panel.

Audience interest was so great that the question-and-answer period had to be terminated forty minutes beyond the scheduled two-hour time allotted for the entire program. The entire symposium was recorded. The proceedings will be transcribed, edited, coordinated with the panelists, printed, and then distributed nationally.