While the engineering workforce continues to age, the looming question is who will replace them? According to the American Society for Quality (ASQ), it won’t be today’s American children. Engineering isn’t even on the radar for most kids.

While several manufacturers are clamoring for experienced engineers, the pool is beginning to run dry-without replenishment. The National Science Foundation is predicting a shortage of 70,000 engineers by 2010.

According to a recent survey of youth (sampling of 1,277 US kids, ages 8-17) conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of ASQ, an overwhelming 85% say they are not interested in a future engineering career for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost, 44% of kids participating in the poll say they don’t know much about engineering. Second, 30% say they prefer a more exciting career than engineering. Then, 21% of those interviewed say they don’t feel confident enough in their math or science skills to be good at engineering. This is despite the fact that the largest number of kids rank math (22%) and science (17%) as their favorite subjects.

More girls say their parents are likely to encourage them to become an actress (21%) than the number who say their parents are likely to encourage them to become an engineer (10%). Other careers parents encourage girls to consider include doctor (33%), lawyer (25%), teacher (31%), veterinarian (23%), nurse (20%) and businessperson (17%).

Boys (24%) are significantly more likely than girls (5%) to say they are interested in an engineering career. Thirty-one percent of boys say their parents have encouraged them to consider an engineering career while only 10% of girls indicate parental interest in engineering.

The engineering shortage will take its toll. “The shortage of 70,000 engineers by 2010 will likely cause less focus on innovation toward quality as well as aging and outdated standards,” said Cheryl Birdsong-Dyer, ASQ member and process engineer. She concludes, “Knowledge transfer from retiring engineers to incoming engineers will continue to weaken, threatening progress. This will increase infrastructure costs for generations to come.”