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RE: Future Generations of Engineers

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I am a little behind in my reading and I don't mean to pick on you - I do sincerely appreciate your comments whether I agree or not. With that said let me comment on your reply to Clifford Schwinger:
I tend to agree with Clifford's perspective on this matter. You are fortunate to have done so well and for your children to have done equally as well, but your observations of the earning potential of an attorney and doctor is much outdated. As I do expert witness work, I find that the high-rollers in the legal profession are large office attorneys who a pushed to bill as many hours as can be productive in a 60 to 80-hour week. Once these attorneys realize that they won't make partnership (considering that there are only a limited number of partner positions available) the lawyer ends up moving into private practice and/or another firm breaking his butt to log billable hours.
The type of law he/she chooses to practice is also very important as those who bill hourly will earn far less than those who have enough capital to fund a practice where contingency fees are possible. However, remember that even these practices can lose their shirts on a case they believe has merit and on the ability to bet the farm on it. Case in point, the legal firm that went up against the Tobacco industry and could not make it to the appeals stage after winning big (winning and collecting are two separate issues).
The majority of lawyers I work with are not earning much more than I do and certainly not in the six figure range. In fact, I doubt that the 10-engineers who work in this valley servicing over 100,000 people has a net annual income exceeding $50,000.00 and the average cost of a modest home has just hit $260,000.00. I was fortunate to move here ten years ago when a lot was $25,000.00 and the average home was less than $100,000.00. My point is that while real-estate is booming - fee's are not increasing proportionally and my daughter who earns approximately $30.00 and hour as an RN is now unable to afford to purchase a home here (moving from Chicago).
Your perspective of Doctors is also skewed. Yes, I might agree that a specialist might earn more, but the general practitioner no long works for a private corporation  as these have been absorbed by HMO's that provide patients on the promise that a doctor must be able to see one patient every 15 minutes. For a family with a PPO plan - they are treated the same as those on an HMO when it comes to trying to get a response from your physician. Second, even though the doctor is seeing so many patients, the income per patient is much less than in the past and they physician has become, essentially, the employee of the HMO he/she represents. Doctors are no longer the high-rollers they were ten to fifteen years ago and those lucky enough to be older and maintaining a private practice are generally not taking new patients.
Where is their money going - mostly liability insurance as, depending on the field, the riskier the specialty, the harder it is and the more costly to obtain liability coverage. (I believe that anesthesiologists have the highest overhead due to liability insurance coverage). Now, if you are fortunate enough to be located in Glencoe Illinois, Beverly Hills California, Gross Point Michigan, Palm Beach Florida and other exclusive neighborhoods, you might be fortunate enough to bill more for legal services, but if the insurance review board believes that you charged more than what is considered reasonable for services rendered, you need to either sue the patient (and will probably lose) or write off the difference.
Most doctors are making decent money only because they work twice the number of hours as their predecessors have. My gastroenterologist starts his day at 5:00AM (seeing patients) and ends around 9:00PM after hospital visits. My GP is not making more money than I am and works 7:00AM to past 7:00 PM.
What the worlds needs less of is doctors and lawyers. What they need more of are doctors and lawyers who excel over their competition as most are so overworked the quality of their work reduces in the process.
So, your children are truly unique and gifted and for this I applaud you in your guidance of your family, but when you step out of your world and take a closer look at the rest, the picture is not so rosy. Professionals close to the border do have to worry about low priced competition and those who design low-rise structures are more vulnerable to loss of work due to overseas labor than engineers practicing on high-rise or essential facilities. All it takes is one professional in another country who is licensed to practice in the US but who lives in India, Korea, Mexico, or any number of areas of the world where people are anxious to work for a small fraction of what we earn and our clients, who are no different than the large global corporations that ran from the US to areas of cheaper labor and destroyed our manufacturing industry. The next to go is our service industry and we are already seeing plenty of this. I've documented specific cases in an early issue of "Structural Engineer Magazine" in which an Architect plan stamps calculations from engineers in Mexico City willing to work for less than 10% of what I might charge based on my cost of living. $5,000.00 a year goes a long way in some areas of the world and the California Architectural Board (CAB) has already confirmed to me the rights to an architect to seal plans where he has consulted with another professional whether or not that person was licensed. The only time he can be held liable is if damage occurs that can attributed to quality of engineering. Until then, he can apply his seal to the work of others and, if the building department issues permits, there is nothing that a local engineer can do to argue the loss of the service industry here because our cost of living is higher.
Simply put, Banks don't forgive loans and they do foreclose. There is no relieve for the millions who have lost their jobs to lower paid labor overseas and the Non-Immigrant Status programs have led to the layoff of many professionals during slow periods as it is less expensive for an employer to lay-off an American employee than to renige on a contract with a Non-Immigrant Status employee. If you will check the records, most of the top twenty engineering firms save money on H-1B employees and this, in the written agreement of the law, becomes a threat to American Services.
Considering the facts that you left out when impressing upon us the good fortune of your family puts another spin on the issue of vulnerability of American Professionals - there is no security in business and the economic climate of your children can change.
One final point - while you assume that your children are professionals and married to professionals - you describe the need of two working professionals to support a home and family that was supported on one income prior to 1974. Since then, non-professionals families are both working multiple jobs to get ahead and those with higher aspirations require two incomes.
Dennis S. Wish, PE
-----Original Message-----
From: Caldwell, Stan [mailto:scaldwell(--nospam--at)]
Sent: Thursday, July 24, 2003 11:43 AM
To: 'SEAINT Listserv'
Subject: Future Generations of Engineers

Clifford Schwinger wrote:

Perhaps we don't have to worry about where the future generations of structural engineers will be coming from.  Most of the factory jobs have left our country and now it looks like many white-collar jobs are going overseas. I'm guessing that structural steel detailers probably make about $20/hour in this country.  In some countries (overseas) I'm guessing that the going rate is about $1/hour.  I recently read a post from a structural steel detailer on another list who was frustrated that he lost out on a 10,000-hour detailing job that went overseas for $50,000.  I guess $50,000 is big bucks when the an overseas detailing shop pays detailers $1/hour (I'm guessing at that wage, but I'll bet I'm not far off) and doesn't have to worry about little things like social security, medical insurance, sick pay, holidays and vacation pay.  In the July 2003 issue of Structural Engineer magazine there is an article on this subject.  In that article the author points out that Flour Corporation has 200 Filipino engineers on their payroll at $1.50/hour (the article says $3000/year salary which works out to about $1.50/hour for a 40 hour work week) in one of their overseas offices.

I'm not complaining about the future of our profession and our economy for my benefit - I'm an old fart. I'm complaining about it for the benefit of my 2 year old grandson (who already knows that ready-mix concrete is transported in a "crete truck" - not a cement truck!)


As a fellow "Old Fart", I don't share your concerns about the future.  My kids are both grown, well-educated (UT-Austin), and married to lawyers, so they are financially secure (grin).  My daughter is building her "starter home", and it's bigger and fancier than my palace.  My son is a 30 year old P.E. making six figures.

Seriously, I think that there is a distinction that needs to be made between technicians (CAD Operators and Detailers) and professional engineers.  Technicians primarily produce products, albeit highly specialized ones.  As producers of products, they will undoubtedly face increasingly stiff competition from overseas, where reasonably similar products can be produced for much less money.  Engineers, on the other hand, primarily provide (or should primarily provide) professional services rather than products.  As providers of services, they should have much less concern with overseas competition.  For example, how responsive can an engineer in Pakistan be when a problem arises at a jobsite in Kentucky?  When a client calls an important meeting in Moline, how long will it take for the engineer in Taiwan to get there?  How many of us routinely find ourselves competing with Fluor (not Flour) and similar global corporations?  Globalization should have little impact on structural engineers working in a professional capacity. 

Cliff, just make sure your grandson gets a complete engineering education.  That means as many technical courses as possible at the B.S. level (yes Jake, I agree with your minority opinion).  It also means a truly specialized M.S. degree.  Lawyers require at least 7 (4+3) years of education, and doctors require even more.  Engineers of the future cannot expect society to treat them as reasonably equal professionals with only a 4 year, increasingly general, engineering degree.

Okay y'all, flame away!

Stan R. Caldwell, P.E.
Dallas, Texas

Structural engineering is the art of molding materials
we don't wholly understand, into shapes we can't fully
analyze, so as to withstand forces we can't really assess,
in such a way that the community at large has no reason
to suspect the extent of our ignorance."   ...Jim Amrhein

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