The recruitment and development of American engineers must improve if U.S.-based auto makers still want to rely on homegrown talent, General Motors Corp. executives say.

Engineering students often see the auto industry as stodgy and low-tech. Furthermore, the Midwest or “rust belt,” where the U.S. auto industry is centered, suffers from a negative image and cold winters.

A further challenge is the way engineers are trained in America vs. their Asian and European counterparts, says Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman-global product development.

“If you get a group of (Asian or European) engineers in a studio and present them with an issue, or a problem, they will immediately gather and discuss it and pull out a pad and start doing engineering sketches. More often than not, they'll come up with a solution right there,” Lutz says. “In America, in the same situation, the engineers go away and form a committee to address the issue, and later you'll get an answer. And it isn't always the solution you'd hoped for.”

Part of the difference: most of the world trains an engineer to be a draftsman first, able to execute technical drawings. The engineering skills, math and ability to calculate solutions are built upon that.

“In the U.S., we make the separation between engineers, and what we used to call draftsmen and we now call designers,” Lutz says. “We are actually training our engineers to be managers while the rest of the world trains them to be ‘doers.’”

To counteract this, GM's “Designing Engineers” program trains engineers to do their own drafting.