What do some of the greatest achievements of the past such as telephones, TVs, computers, landing on the moon and yes, even iPods, iPhones and iPads have in common? They were all made possible by the creative minds of engineers in all kinds of fields - robotics, electronics, computers, software or industrial design.
So here we are today with youth unemployment near 14% while Canadian companies are facing a shortage of engineering talent to keep creating the next great thing, whether it be new solar technologies for saving the environment or computers that are almost as smart as us.
The problem is that not enough young Canadians are attracted to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) post-secondary education, even though many high school students are ranked in the top 10 for international math and science scores, according to a Globe and Mail story.
Canadian post-secondary education produced less than 12,000 new engineers in 2011, compared to 3.5 million combined in India and China, according to an Engineers Canada report. That’s not a totally fair comparison because our population is so much smaller but the UK only has twice our population yet produces seven times more engineers than we do.
And our lack of engineering grads isn’t because we don’t have great schools. Four of Canada’s largest universities made the list of the world’s top 50 engineering schools last year.
As economies of other countries like China and India are booming with the export of new tech inventions, Canada struggles with product innovation because we aren’t educating enough engineers, says the British industrial designer and engineer Sir James Dyson who invented the “dual cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner.” In an interview with CTV News, Dyson says companies are ramping up the number of engineers they employ, but if students aren’t encouraged to study engineering, these companies can’t expand and Canada can’t compete against the tech innovations of other countries.
Put the engineering talent shortage together with the stubbornly high youth unemployment and you have to wonder why so much of our young, creative brainpower is going to waste.