March 2, 2011


Emerging India Summit: Engineering the truth about U.S. competitiveness

Vivek Wadhwa is a myth-buster.

Ushered from the entrepreneurial life to academia by a massive heart attack at age 45, Wadhwa has taken on the common wisdom about U.S. competitiveness in innovation, science and engineering, particularly vis-à-vis India and China.

Wadhwa, Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Emory's Halle Institute for Global Learning, was a featured speaker at the Emerging India Summit on Feb. 24.

Among the accepted myths Wadhwa has taken on and turned upside down:

• That India and China graduate more engineers than the U.S. "When we actually compared apples to apples in 2004, we found the U.S. graduated more engineers than India did."

• That a shortage of engineers in the U.S. causes companies to outsource jobs and work.  "The bottom line is there is no shortage of engineers in America. The reason companies go to India and China is it's cheaper. When companies go abroad to hire engineers, it's all about savings, savings, savings."

• That Americans' skills don't measure up to those of the Indians and Chinese engineers. "The Americans are equal to or better in every way – [they are] more productive, do high quality work, speak English. But the Indians and Chinese are cheaper, and they work harder."

• That China was going to become the innovation capital of the world, the U.S. would stagnate and India would fall off the map. Instead, he found China is "limping forward," excelling so far in imitation not innovation.  "What we found was India was becoming a global R&D hub on an unprecedented scale, in an unprecedented time horizon."

Why? "Just like the Japanese adopted the best practices of the West in the ‘60s and '70s, India's greatest innovation is that it has mastered the art of workforce development. It learned the ways Western companies used to integrate their workforce and perfected those," he explained.

That's how India, the disciple, became the guru. "Is it time for the U.S. to learn from India?"

File Options

  • Print Icon Print