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Japan is Running Out of Engineers (?!)

From the New York Times:

After years of fretting over coming shortages, the country is actually facing a dwindling number of young people entering engineering and technology-related fields.

Universities call it “rikei banare,” or “flight from science.” The decline is growing so drastic that industry has begun advertising campaigns intended to make engineering look sexy and cool, and companies are slowly starting to import foreign workers, or sending jobs to where the engineers are, in Vietnam and India.

It was engineering prowess that lifted this nation from postwar defeat to economic superpower. But according to educators, executives and young Japanese themselves, the young here are behaving more like Americans: choosing better-paying fields like finance and medicine, or more purely creative careers, like the arts, rather than following their salaryman fathers into the unglamorous world of manufacturing.

Mike’s Take: how can the Japanese build a Gundam now? Are all the techie talents too busy writing Clannad viruses than actually, well, building a tech economy? Japan is doomed I say. DOOOOOMED! The Holy Empire of Britannia will take them over with their Knightmares.

I say this as a person, in many ways, who fits the profile described in the third paragraph. I have a computer science degree, but also an English degree, and after two unsatisfying years as a programmer, I’m studying theology now. Computer science at the University of Maryland was often grueling and for me overly challenging, and about half of my classmates dropped the major by the time I graduated. Engineering and comp sci is hard, and it will always be so unless you are naturally talented at it; I felt like quitting many many times throughout and desperately wished, like Zhong also does, that I had magic powers that would suddenly fix my programming projects and retroactively hand them in on time without memory leaks. I never really had a head for it, so I ended up doing something else.

One wonders if the note that many are pursuing the “arts” instead really means pursuing a career in the anime and manga business: the new destination for geeks. Instead of actually having to design things that work, with all that pesky math and science…you can just imagine them! As a fantasy writer myself, believe me, I understand the appeal. One is much easier than the other.

As for making engineering “sexy and cool”: good luck, fellas. Those are not the two words I would use to describe my classmates in computer science–I got along with them well, don’t get me wrong. We were nerds, and we were proud of it. And since the only kind of person anywhere who would actually want to go through the ordeal of becoming an engineer in Japan is a nerd, I’m taking bets the recruiting poster will look something like this:

That should attract the right people to the profession! Japan: get moving. Or else the glorious future full of giant robots, ass-kicking stoic cyborgs, and android maids who look like 15 year old girls will never come true.

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