Jobs council seeks more engineers

PORTLAND -- More than 40 major companies have agreed to double the number of engineering internships they offer in a bid to help universities train more people for jobs that require math and science skills, President Obama's jobs and competitiveness council announced Wednesday.

The commitment from high-tech, health care, financial and other companies creates about 6,300 new engineering internships. Firms that will be hiring more engineers include Fluor and Bechtel. For a complete list of companies, see the link from the Herald's Facebook site.

It is part of a short-term goal to graduate 10,000 more American engineers each year, bringing the total to about 130,000 annual graduates.

Obama's competitiveness council hopes the new internships will help engineering schools improve abysmal retention rates. Forty percent of science and math majors drop out, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.

Some high-tech companies would like to hire engineers in the U.S. but are exporting jobs to Asia because of a shortage of qualified Americans, said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

"We need engineers. We need scientists," Chu said. "This is going to be at the heart of how the United States is going to remain competitive."

The White House announced Wednesday that Obama would lay out his jobs plan in an address to Congress next week, though the scheduling was in doubt after Republican Speaker John Boehner balked at the timing.

Chu and other Obama administration officials were in Oregon to solicit ideas from business executives and engineering school deans in an event at Portland State University. They were told that engineering is a misunderstood profession, and that the K-12 education system is letting down many would-be engineers before they even reach college.