Apple still depends on traditional American engineers, and is slowly losing them

Posted:
in General Discussion
Apple and all technology firms outsource work to around the globe, yet it's crucial that they keep key skills in America -- and no one is training the new generation.

Apple's most modern design depended on traditional skills we're losing
Apple's most modern design depended on traditional skills we're losing


Apple products say, "Designed in California," but you know that even that design work takes in talent from around the entire world. Then there's the manufacturing which is also a global endeavour -- even for the Texas-built Mac Pro which needs components from worldwide. It's one great planet-wide machine, but as we look to solutions outside the US, we are losing skills that no country is attempting to save.

Jony Ive regularly talked about this during his time with Apple. He spoke frequently about how it is now hard to hire good young designers.

"So many of the designers that we interview don't know how to make stuff, because workshops in design schools are expensive and computers are cheaper," Ive told the Design Museum in 2014. "That's just tragic, that you can spend four years of your life studying the design of three dimensional objects and not make one."

It's sometimes the same with less visible, physical products such as teamwork. In 2012, former Apple executive Bob Mansfield announced his retirement.

"Bob has been an instrumental part of our executive team, leading the hardware engineering organization and overseeing the team that has delivered dozens of breakthrough products over the years," Tim Cook said at the time. "We are very sad to have him leave and hope he enjoys every day of his retirement."

That was June of 2012, and it took until August of that year for Cook to find a replacement -- in the guise of Bob Mansfield. He barely had any retirement days to enjoy before he was hired back and put in charge of what Apple would only describe as "new products."

Reportedly, it was really one new product, singular, and according to the Wall Street Journal, that's the Apple Car. AppleInsider described it as Apple's most ambitious project ever, and Mansfield landed it after he'd retired.

For an industry that is seemingly obsessed with youth, technology companies are finding that experience is hard to come by -- and that it needs to be kept when it exists. Software engineer and iMovie creator Glenn Reid originally made his mark at Adobe and then Steve Jobs's NeXT in the late 1980s, before quitting and being rehired by Jobs at Apple.

He was rehired twice. Reid told the AppleInsider podcast about how, and why, Steve Jobs just would not let him go.

According to The Information, Apple has also been repeatedly re-hiring one engineer, Mike Janicek, because they simply cannot find new recruits who can do what they need.

"This is an industrywide problem, not just for Apple," Janicek told The Information. "There aren't that many really experienced manufacturing engineers in the US."

"Kids don't grow up working on cars or fixing stuff anymore," he continued. "Instead, if they need an answer, they'll look it up on Google."

Janicek, now 61, was originally a contractor working at an Apple keyboard and mouse factory in 1984. Then he was brought back from 2002 to 2009 to supervise manufacture of connectors and cases.

And then he was hired yet again in 2014 because there were problems with the Apple Watch, which was then in development. The Watch was delayed and while Janicek has expertise in the vanishing arts of metalworking, and machine tooling, he was also used to getting things done.

In 2009, weary of constant travelling between Cupertino and its Chinese manufacturers, Janicek quit. "I needed a break from Apple."






While we can assume that all companies are trying this, The Information says that Apple has taken to recruiting away from its usual technology fields. For example, it hired car paint expert John Payne in 2006.

"If you were to ask me 10 years before I joined Apple if I would work for a computer company, I would have laughed and said, 'No, why would they need me?'" he told The Information. But his expertise at color coating of metals and other materials, meant he was needed for Apple's tooling team.

"The thing I loved about Apple was you didn't have to go with the known manufacturing solution," he said. "You could prove out something new, and if you didn't try 200 different things, you were looked at as if you weren't doing your job."

"Suppliers don't want to spend much money redesigning products for you," he continued. "They pick the material and the processes and often go with the known solution or equipment. Apple wanted perfection, not just good enough."

Apple found the expertise it needed by going to a car expert, and now Microsoft has hired Payne to work for them. It is a small pool of talent, and it is not being replenished -- even though it is crucial.

In 2017, Tim Cook came as close as he ever has to publicly addressing the issue. "In the US," he said, "you could have a meeting of tooling engineers, and I'm not sure you could fill the room. In China, you could fill multiple football fields."

He meant it as praise for China, and quite rightly so, but it is also a true summary of what we have lost in the States.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 52
    It is not just Apple that is losing key skills. Almost all Engineering and Tech companies who contract out work are doing the same.
    Outsourcing to cheaper locations might be good for the beancounters (note... their jobs hardly ever go overseas) but the skills drain is immense.
    It happened to me twice. The last time I refused to train my Indian replacements. They had two people just to do my job.
    The experiences of the first episode made me think long and hard about training people who really didn't care about the job and who were unable to ask relevant or hard questions for fear of losing face with their boss.

    I have warned my grandchildren away from going into the IT business as there is no future for it in the west.

    shaminorazorpitvirtualshiftwatto_cobraviclauyyc
  • Reply 2 of 52
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,532member
    It is not just Apple that is losing key skills. Almost all Engineering and Tech companies who contract out work are doing the same.
    Outsourcing to cheaper locations might be good for the beancounters (note... their jobs hardly ever go overseas) but the skills drain is immense.
    It happened to me twice. The last time I refused to train my Indian replacements. They had two people just to do my job.
    The experiences of the first episode made me think long and hard about training people who really didn't care about the job and who were unable to ask relevant or hard questions for fear of losing face with their boss.

    I have warned my grandchildren away from going into the IT business as there is no future for it in the west.

    What about software engineering?
  • Reply 3 of 52
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,327member
    One thing you can't teach is having an inquisitive mind and the desire to deeply understand things.  Understanding things to the point where you can (and want to) come up with new ways to do them.  Not just memorizing and regurgitating existing facts.  It requires a mind which is both rational and logical, but also has a creative instinct.  I think there will always be a shortage of those types of people.
    PetrolDaveroundaboutnowamar99seanjwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 52
    FatmanFatman Posts: 513member
    I think kids today have less motivation, just overall less interest in doing real world builds and repairs. The information resources available today are absolutely incredible, is there a shortage of 'labs' as this article claims - possibly, I don't know.  Creativity as a whole is dying - and I do blame the smartphone for that. Kids have little interest in the hobbies that I grew up with, R/C, models, rocketrey, music composition with real instruments, building a PC, even programming computers using BASIC. They live in a virtual world - more interested in seeing something on a screen than experiencing it in real life. Most American colleges prepare kids for service oriented jobs, the few colleges that do have excellent STEM programs are filled with foreign students!

    I disagree with one point in the article, personally I think "Googling it" has allowed me to learn and fix even more stuff - I never would have taken the entire front fender off my car - if I didn't have a video showing me how. Or install my own bathroom sink, complete with welding copper pipes. During lockdown, there are so many kids that don't know what to do with themselves ... besides play Fortnite and watch idiotic Youtube videos for hours on end.
    razorpitPetrolDavetenchi211seanj
  • Reply 5 of 52
    65026502 Posts: 376member
    It is not just Apple that is losing key skills. Almost all Engineering and Tech companies who contract out work are doing the same.
    Outsourcing to cheaper locations might be good for the beancounters (note... their jobs hardly ever go overseas) but the skills drain is immense.
    It happened to me twice. The last time I refused to train my Indian replacements. They had two people just to do my job.
    The experiences of the first episode made me think long and hard about training people who really didn't care about the job and who were unable to ask relevant or hard questions for fear of losing face with their boss.

    I have warned my grandchildren away from going into the IT business as there is no future for it in the west.

    Exactly right. And, it is not just computer tech and IT. I'm a chemist and work for a smaller company ($0.7B market cap) that does internal R&D and also contract R&D for all the large pharma companies (worldwide). None of these pharma companies do any chemistry any more; it is all contracted out to china (Wuxi) and India. They literally have giant buildings filled with thousands of low paid chemists that are way cheaper than using domestic talent, even if that means risking IP. It is so competitive to be a Western chemist today that you need a BS (4-5 yrs), PhD (5-6 yrs) and several post-docs (each one is 2-3 yrs) just to have any hope of being hired in the US or Europe. You basically need more training than an MD. There is zero security no matter how good you are. And, most western chemists quickly pivot to project management and are no longer in the lab. I'd say most of the high paying jobs in the US/Europe are in finance, project management, alliance management, logistics, MBA-related, etc..., not in hard skills. Sad really what we've become.
    tokyojimuPetrolDavemrstepseanjkiltedgreen
  • Reply 6 of 52
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,624member
    It’s true... our educational system/work experience system is flawed.  It’s designed to mass produce basic skills in students, not prepare them for the workforce.  It works OK for programmers but not for engineers.  

    What’s needed is to mix back in the apprenticeship system.  The problem is young people exit the college system massively in debt but lacking the real work experience that’s needed.  Because of the debt, they’re pushed into certain jobs that narrows the opportunities.

    When I was in college, learning a foreign language was a requirement for graduation.  That’s no doubt a valuable skill for some individuals, but it was a complete waste of my time.  History?  Certainly important... but how the freak does that give students hirable skills?

    I’ve always thought history and English (literature) should have been merged in high school.  Why was I being forced to read books that were irrelevant.  Why poetry?  If I was going to write an essay on something, I’d much rather it be about something of historical significance (history). Anyone that wants to learn about Shakespeare, take it as an elective... 

    Anyways... the vast majority of our education system is just wasting students time, and doesn’t prepare them for what employers need.

    If I was going to do it again, I’d have dropped out of high school, home schooled for a GED and bounced between a few apprenticeships learning real skills.  I’m pretty sure it would illegal though, because they’d have been employing underage labor.

    PetrolDaveseanj
  • Reply 7 of 52
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,525member
    If only the IP system worked huh?
    I've told people for a decade that stealing IP and pirating is gonna have repercussions someday. Streaming is also affecting art at a lesser degree.

    Wishful thinking: Maybe these young'ins will grow up to be a Steve Jobs or Bob Mansfield when they get older?


    auxio said:
    One thing you can't teach is having an inquisitive mind and the desire to deeply understand things.  Understanding things to the point where you can (and want to) come up with new ways to do them.  Not just memorizing and regurgitating existing facts.  It requires a mind which is both rational and logical, but also has a creative instinct.  I think there will always be a shortage of those types of people.

    I'm in the process of this. It's frustrating but the reward is to create a better, more simple way that's easier to use. Pain now, play later.*


    *I'm trying to create a digital drum machine/channel strip for music production that can load any audio file/samples that can also have the option of sounding like analog hardware and be controlled via hardware drum pads if wanted to. Just tossing this out if anyone has ideas PM me. lol. I suck at software development so creating a plugin isn't really my thing but I have ideas via sidechaining and analog noise loops.
  • Reply 8 of 52
    KuyangkohKuyangkoh Posts: 725member
    America will always be relying on foreign talents, we are land of immigrants....but it is sad and correct that kids now a days don’t tinkered with anything....unlike my days we do brakes and maintained our own cars, do plumbings etc. Even military folks I was told cannot fixed down to components levels anymore ...how sad.
    PetrolDave
  • Reply 9 of 52
    At least we're churning out plenty of finance and marketing people, though.
    lorca2770razorpitseanj
  • Reply 10 of 52
    I doubt the opening line of this piece:  "no one" is training engineers any more?  So MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, Cal-Tech, Purdue, etc., have just dropped engineering from their curricula?  I doubt it.  I expect those schools have minted more engineers in the past 10 years than during any prior decade.  Now how many of those students are American is another question.
    llamaravnorodomSpamSandwichStrangeDaysseanj
  • Reply 11 of 52
    It is not just Apple that is losing key skills. Almost all Engineering and Tech companies who contract out work are doing the same.
    Outsourcing to cheaper locations might be good for the beancounters (note... their jobs hardly ever go overseas) but the skills drain is immense.
    It happened to me twice. The last time I refused to train my Indian replacements. They had two people just to do my job.
    The experiences of the first episode made me think long and hard about training people who really didn't care about the job and who were unable to ask relevant or hard questions for fear of losing face with their boss.

    I have warned my grandchildren away from going into the IT business as there is no future for it in the west.

    What about software engineering?
    Same thing. All being replaced by Indians abroad or here on H1-B visas.
    seanj
  • Reply 12 of 52
    Fatman said:
    I think kids today have less motivation, just overall less interest in doing real world builds and repairs. The information resources available today are absolutely incredible, is there a shortage of 'labs' as this article claims - possibly, I don't know.  Creativity as a whole is dying - and I do blame the smartphone for that. Kids have little interest in the hobbies that I grew up with, R/C, models, rocketrey, music composition with real instruments, building a PC, even programming computers using BASIC. They live in a virtual world - more interested in seeing something on a screen than experiencing it in real life. Most American colleges prepare kids for service oriented jobs, the few colleges that do have excellent STEM programs are filled with foreign students!

    I disagree with one point in the article, personally I think "Googling it" has allowed me to learn and fix even more stuff - I never would have taken the entire front fender off my car - if I didn't have a video showing me how. Or install my own bathroom sink, complete with welding copper pipes. During lockdown, there are so many kids that don't know what to do with themselves ... besides play Fortnite and watch idiotic Youtube videos for hours on end.
    That's because all they hear is learn to code, learn to code.  Coding is barely doing and most coders lack a holistic view of what they are working on.  They like the freedom to hop from job to job and employers like their interchangeability.  It isn't the kids.  

    That said - good work is happening in AI/ML, VR/MR, etc.  Also the tech disdain of unions has lead to a decline of skilled trades in tech.  
    PetrolDave
  • Reply 13 of 52
    It is not just Apple that is losing key skills. Almost all Engineering and Tech companies who contract out work are doing the same.
    Outsourcing to cheaper locations might be good for the beancounters (note... their jobs hardly ever go overseas) but the skills drain is immense.
    It happened to me twice. The last time I refused to train my Indian replacements. They had two people just to do my job.
    The experiences of the first episode made me think long and hard about training people who really didn't care about the job and who were unable to ask relevant or hard questions for fear of losing face with their boss.

    I have warned my grandchildren away from going into the IT business as there is no future for it in the west.

    What about software engineering?
    Same thing. All being replaced by Indians abroad or here on H1-B visas.
    BThey aren't being "replaced."  It's supply and demand.  The demand for software engineers in the US far exceeds the supply of US citizen software engineers.  (Pandemic issues aside) the unemployment lines are not filled with US born, US educated engineers.
  • Reply 14 of 52

    I doubt the opening line of this piece:  "no one" is training engineers any more?  So MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, Cal-Tech, Purdue, etc., have just dropped engineering from their curricula?  I doubt it.  I expect those schools have minted more engineers in the past 10 years than during any prior decade.  Now how many of those students are American is another question.
    The article noted that learning is different from doing.  Sure there are maker-hobby collectives but learning high end design requires doing and that doesn't seem to be happening anymore.
    elijahgpscooter63
  • Reply 15 of 52
    Multi talented engineers who understand how materials react, how thing works, etc. are just not being trained. The vast majority of graduates are expert in just one discipline which means they cannot design or manufacture a true system - one that needs the right balance between disciplines. This isn’t an new problem, as a Systems Manager in the 1990’s I found It incredibly hard to recruit multi-discipline talent.
  • Reply 16 of 52
    mrstepmrstep Posts: 476member
    What about software engineering?
    This has been going on in software since the 90's: massive outsourcing, somewhat lower end-rates for companies (bean-counters rejoice) in exchange for mostly (not always) inept 'talent' through the outsourcing shops where many projects take longer and then have to be re-written in the end. I make good money doing software development, but wages have certainly stagnated for a long time in the field, and having an open spigot on outsourcing and offshoring is undoubtedly a part of that. (Oh, and did I mention the insanely low pay-through to those foreign workers from their body shops?)
    Then cue the politicians crying about 'not enough US students in STEM' - all while they've engineered the outsourcing/undercutting of their own constituents in exchange for campaign contributions from these outsourcing shops and large multinationals. Other than Perot, there's only been one high-level politician in decades who wasn't actively colluding with moving US jobs overseas.
    Would I encourage my kids to study something technical? Yes - in terms of that background likely being more useful than many generic degrees - but it's hard to be enthusiastic when you see the policies passed that totally undercut future US careers in the field.
    It's no surprise it's harder to find native engineers in any case after decades of policies designed to let companies pad margins a bit regardless of the long-term consequences.
    edited April 2020 scott rpscooter63seanj
  • Reply 17 of 52
    jbilgihan said:

    I doubt the opening line of this piece:  "no one" is training engineers any more?  So MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, Cal-Tech, Purdue, etc., have just dropped engineering from their curricula?  I doubt it.  I expect those schools have minted more engineers in the past 10 years than during any prior decade.  Now how many of those students are American is another question.
    The article noted that learning is different from doing.  Sure there are maker-hobby collectives but learning high end design requires doing and that doesn't seem to be happening anymore.
    Right.  My objection is with the "no one is training the new generation" assertion, that is clearly false.  This isn't a on/off situation; it's about scale.

    Given the amazing things that have been created in the past 5, 10, 20 years, I find it hard to believe that all that is going to come grinding to a halt once the boomers or Gen X retires.  Most of the world's breakthroughs and innovations come from a relatively tiny number of exceptional individuals.  I trust that not every millennial is a screen-obsessed, incurious, lazy drone.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 18 of 52
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,314member
    It's the same in the UK. Engineering classes are expensive so many schools and universities just don't bother, or are trying to cheapen the courses with less hands-on engineering than before. My university did just that, they kicked out the experienced lecturers who could answer students who asked the tougher questions, in favour of clueless PhD students with zero real experience. They replaced hands-on modules with theoretical maths classes. Universities here at least are also heavily in favour of the lucrative non-STEM subjects, mainly liberal arts. Subjects that almost always result in the graduates working in the local takeaway or supermarket because there aren't enough jobs for graduate musicians/artists/english literate/marketing students.

    Schools in the west seem to try and stifle inquisitive kids; kids who ask questions that aren't in line with the syllabus (but are still related to the subject at hand) are told to stop asking questions and answer the contrived question that they've been set that is usually full of holes. Especially in the UK with the ingrained socialism in schools, teachers try and treat all the kids as having equal intelligence, which they do not. And therefore most of the time it just ends up with the lowest common denominator setting the pace of the class, resulting in a disproportionate fraction of time spent on the kid who's probably going to end up as a builder or rubbish collector anyway (valuable jobs don't get me wrong, but not skilled), so the smart kids get bored, learn much less than their potential and are not stimulated. Ultimately reducing the quality of the students.
    edited April 2020 JanNLseanj
  • Reply 19 of 52
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,532member
    mrstep said:
    What about software engineering?
    This has been going on in software since the 90's: massive outsourcing, somewhat lower end-rates for companies (bean-counters rejoice) in exchange for mostly (not always) inept 'talent' through the outsourcing shops where many projects take longer and then have to be re-written in the end. I make good money doing software development, but wages have certainly stagnated for a long time in the field, and having an open spigot on outsourcing and offshoring is undoubtedly a part of that. (Oh, and did I mention the insanely low pay-through to those foreign workers from their body shops?)
    Then cue the politicians crying about 'not enough US students in STEM' - all while they've engineered the outsourcing/undercutting of their own constituents in exchange for campaign contributions from these outsourcing shops and large multinationals. Other than Perot, there's only been one high-level politician in decades who wasn't actively colluding with moving US jobs overseas.
    Would I encourage my kids to study something technical? Yes - in terms of that background likely being more useful than many generic degrees - but it's hard to be enthusiastic when you see the policies passed that totally undercut future US careers in the field.
    It's no surprise it's harder to find native engineers in any case after decades of policies designed to let companies pad margins a bit regardless of the long-term consequences.
    Shitty.
  • Reply 20 of 52
    thttht Posts: 4,028member
    Meh. This article doesn't prove anything to me regarding talent or loss of expertise to me. Expertise is developed through years of experience, and good ones are rehired a lot. Young engineers by definition do not have expertise as they are just starting with their careers. 


    lkruppmdriftmeyerPetrolDave
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