News Column

Why GM Official Says US Is Trailing the World on Engineering Education

Sept. 21, 2012

Nathan Bomey


John Calabrese, General Motors vice president of global engineering, said the auto industry is concerned about a K-12 education system that he said isn't doing enough to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

That's why 1,500 GM engineers volunteer in 325 classrooms through the Society of Automotive Engineers' "A World in Motion" program, which provides technical learning opportunities for elementary and middle school students.

The company also supports First Robotics, which organizes technology competitions for middle and high school students.

"Math and science and the understanding of how and why is a life skill that you need no matter what you do," Calabrese said.

Here are five insights from Calabrese on GM's recruiting efforts and the nation's STEM education challenges:

--GM's biggest engineering recruiting challenges are software and controls engineering, and "mechanical engineers that understand energy," Calabrese said.

"I do a global business. I have engineers on six continents. The U.S. is 27th in the graduation population of developing the folks for the next generation for mathematics and science. That's a real shame," he said.

--Colleges need to create multidisciplinary engineering departments to give students a variety of skills, Calabrese said.

"Universities are very silo-structured," he said. "You've got a mechanical engineering department, you've got an electrical engineering department and you've got an industrial engineering department. They've worked over the last five, 10 years to have interdisciplinary type of projects. But in my view, they need to take that to the next step to have interdisciplinary curriculum."

--The summer after students graduate from high school and before they enroll in college classes is a time when students could pick up extra skills to prepare for high-level engineering courses.

"Unfortunately, there's a high transfer rate because of the lack of preparation going into the technical fields in college," Calabrese said.

--Developing new energy systems for the vehicle attracts young talent.

"You do get to invent the future," Calabrese said. "The next 15 years is something that only comes around every 100 years. We're ferreting out petroleum, compressed natural gas, hybrids, battery-electric vehicles with no emissions. The last time this occurred was literally when we were deciding steam versus gasoline versus diesel, which was a hundred years ago."

--Young talent must be given a strong sense of purpose in the workplace.

"I want them to come here, love what they do, love what they work with, know they're on a team that demands a winning attitude and have fun at it.

"Then this is a career, not just a job, and I think that's what the individuals are looking for," he said.

Source: (c)2012 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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