Offshoring Engineering: Facts, Myths, Unknowns, and Implications

Project Status
September 30, 2010
National Science Foundation, The United Engineering Foundation, NAE Member Gordon Bell, NAE Fund.
Final Report
The Offshoring of Engineering: Facts, Unknowns, and Potential Implications
Authoring InstitutionNational Academy of Engineering
Publication DateJanuary 01, 2008
Other Related Resources
This study examined the scope, composition, motivation for and implications of the offshoring of engineering for the United States.
  • The engineering enterprise is a pillar of U.S. national and homeland security, economic vitality, and innovation. But many engineering tasks can now be performed anywhere in the world. The emergence of offshoring the transfer of work from the United States to affiliated and unaffiliated entities abroad has raised concerns about the impacts of globalization. This project and resulting committee-authored report helps to answer many questions about the scope, composition, and motivation for offshoring and considers the implications for the future of U.S. engineering practice, labor markets, education, and research. The publication examines trends and impacts from a broad perspective and in six specific industries software, semiconductors, personal computer manufacturing, construction engineering and services, automobiles, and pharmaceuticals.
Key Contacts

In recent years, there has been an intense debate over the shift of engineering and other high-skill services work from the United States to developing economies, known as "offshoring." Some see offshoring as a signal that U.S. technological leadership is weakening. They warn of a long-term erosion in U.S. engineering prowess and living standards unless the trend is halted. Others claim that offshoring is the inevitable "next stage" of globalization and that the United States is well positioned to reap the benefits of more efficient global innovation networks. Recognizing that offshoring represents a significant challenge to U.S. engineers and that hard data has been difficult to come by, the NAE launched a study in 2006 aimed at examining the offshoring of engineering and its implications.

A committee of prominent industry and academic experts lead thr effort, which is supported by the National Science Foundation and the United Engineering Fund, a generous gift from NAE member Gordon Bell, and the National Academy of Engineering Fund.  A public workshop, Offshoring of Engineering: Facts, Myths, Unknowns, and Implications, in October, 2006, was the centerpiece of the committee’s study process. The meeting featured talks by industry and academic engineering leaders. Original NAE-commissioned research papers exploring offshoring in key industries were presented and discussed. The overall goal of the workshop was to bring together cutting-edge analysis of offshoring, explore a wide range of opinions and perspectives, and engage national leaders and the broad engineering profession in a discussion of the outlook for, and implications of, offshoring.  The project resulted in a committee-authored consensus report.

See background paper by Robert P. Morgan: The Impact of Offshoring on the Engineering Profession