Delphi's Andrew Brown: "We encourage independent thinking. That's an alien concept to them."
The United States mints about 65,000 fresh engineers a year, compared to about 325,000 in China and 350,000 in India, according to Roland Berger Strategy Consultants of Troy, Mich.
But the larger output of engineers does not tell the whole story, says Andrew Brown, Delphi Corp.'s executive director of global engineering competency.
"Both countries - India and China - have tremendous resources for graduating engineers, and four to five times the engineers than the United States does," Brown says. "And both have great number of academic institutions."
But there are huge training and cultural issues to overcome in both countries, especially in China, he says.
"In China, quality is not on par with what we expect elsewhere," Brown says. "There's very strong competition for limited talent. There are about 2,000 universities and colleges. But there are only 10 top schools, and two-thirds of their grads you don't bother with.
"The Chinese culture is autocratic. Engineers don't like to act on their own without consulting authority. We (in the United States) encourage independent thinking. That's an alien concept to them. They don't challenge a directive perceived to come from a professor, and they have deep respect for authority."
Students and workers are willing and they want to do well, he says.
"But lack of tools, precise equipment and training are often stumbling blocks to quality," Brown says. "The cultural mindset is more timid, less risk-taking and aggressive than Western cultures," he says. "Many companies don't understand this fact going in."
In India and China, he says, "We tailor what we need to get done to meet the skill and knowledge level needed. We cannot expect them to do (complex design or work on) an engine management system if they have only done spark plugs."
Brown says some must receive entry-level training before they can do the work.
India has the engineering and tech advantage over China, he says.
One benefit: About 30 percent of Indian workers speak English.
"More graduates who have worked in North America come back to build on that knowledge and expertise at home," Brown says. "So you have a larger core of professionals to support the transportation industry in India."