Engineering: Where is it headed?

Most businesses hope to grow, but there are some parts of who you are that you determine not to lose along the way. As KTM Solutions has been celebrating 15 years in business since last spring, we’ve taken some time to look at where we started and where we want to go. Three factors in particular stand out as vital to who we are:

  1. Employing qualified engineers who love what they do

  2. Providing an environment that lets them keep on loving what they do

  3. Contributing to engineering education—we’ve had about 40 student interns since our internship program began in 2006, and roughly 80% of them have entered an engineering career.

All three of those desires show up in the following blog post. Written 13 years ago by Paul Kumler, Co-Founder and President of KTM Solutions, this post gives some insight into our history and the culture we aim for.

Engineering Shortage?

During the latter part of my career with The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin, our engineering leadership spent many hours trying to understand the impact of the growing number of engineering retirees on the Aerospace Industry. Aviation Week & Space Technology reported in February 2007 that the industry continues to anticipate a large “brain drain” as the baby boomers retire. Even so, engineering school applicants and enrollment are in decline.

Since founding KTM Solutions, it has become apparent to me that the aerospace industry is not the only business sector affected by this trend. Why the decline in engineering interest among high school students and graduates? What is happening to the engineering profession? Why is it predicted that US engineering schools will not be able to keep up with demand? How does all this impact the US technical edge? What happens when we lose this to foreign competition? The answers to these questions are disturbing. Engineering excellence and technical achievement are key contributors to the standard of living that we enjoy in the United States. However, in recent years, it appears that there is a public and scholastic lack of appreciation for engineering. Technical excellence has taken a back seat to profits. In larger corporations, engineering creativity is stifled by an endless amount of bureaucratic paperwork and an approval process that is more complex than the engineering creation process. Furthermore, engineers are treated as hourly employees, emphasizing the hourly wage over the value of creativity and innovation. Engineers are treated as commodities rather than as salaried professionals that are uniquely gifted and qualified. Engineering is a blend of art and science where science is applied to address daily needs. Innovation and creativity grounded in the fundamental laws of physical science are developed and complimented by natural talent and years of experience. When applied correctly, engineering blends all requirements to develop the best product that meets the needs of the user, at the appropriate price. Engineers are not “line replaceable units.” One engineer differs from another as much as an author or artist differs from another.

As our senior engineers leave the industry, a wealth of experience and natural talent goes with them. Experience can be documented and passed on to the next generation. But what about the innovation and artistic talent that makes the application of the sciences appealing? Can that be captured? Can the next generation be energized and empowered to release its creativity? In my opinion, too many companies are stifling creativity and the spirit of the engineer. Hence, the younger generation loses interest. Unless the industry changes and encourages engineering innovation and development, the US will lose its technical advantages to markets like China, India, and Russia. The short-term attraction of bargain-price engineering (which in reality isn’t the bargain it appears to be) will be overcome by a balancing in the world economy. At that point, the technical talent in these foreign markets, provided by US industry and universities, will be on par with or above that of the US. When this occurs, industry will have no choice but to purchase technology abroad and pay whatever the market demands.

An earlier version of this piece was published in January of 2008 on