Our fourth day in Shanghai was spent visiting companies who had investments in the city. The first was a factory owned by TE connectivity, an electronic components manufacturer that is headquartered in Pennsylvania. Compared to the silicon-valley like setup we saw at Cheetah mobile, this company’s office had a much more traditional feel. The factory floor itself was interesting, and it was interesting to see how most of the work was automated and done by robots. The role of the few human workers was mostly to maintain and monitor the machines. This was interesting to see, as politicians in the United States have often blamed competition from Chinese workers for the loss of jobs in manufacturing and industry. However, what I saw on the company visit seemed to show that many of those jobs are likely being lost to automation, and that it isn’t a problem that’s unique to the United States. A large part of China’s economic growth was driven by manufacturing and heavy industry, but—much like what happened in the rustbelt of the United States—when the people in these jobs get replaced, it can seriously disrupt entire regions. It will be interesting to see how China’s economy adapts going forward, and if they will be able to sustain the kind of incredible growth they’ve had for the past 40 years.
Later that afternoon, we visited a research center run by DuPont, one of the world’s largest chemical companies. This was particularly interesting for me, as my current plan is to study Chemical Engineering. We listened to a talk from a representative, who talked about the unique opportunities that his company had in China. Much of their research was focused on developing materials to make PV panels cheaper and more efficient, which is driven by a desire to capitalize on the investment the Chinese government is making in generating more of their electricity form solar power. In many of the big cities such as Beijing, the pollution from fossil fuel power plants makes just breathing the air hazardous for your health, and has led to a backlash from everyday citizens who are afraid to raise their kids in an environment like that. Most of the people who worked at the center were scientists with PhD’s, which showed that American companies are now looking abroad not only for manufacturing, but also to conduct research and development. This was something I wasn’t previously aware of, and it shows how Chinese universities are becoming increasingly well known and respected abroad. It definitely made me realize how science and engineering in the future is going to be more globally connected, and how the “soft” skills of language and communication are going to be crucial.