"Is the United States developing the human capital to remain the
world's most productive economy while at the same time meeting a formidable
new national security threat?" This question is posed in a new
report, "The Quiet Crisis: Falling Short in Producing American
Scientific and Technical Talent." The report indicates that the
U.S. is not doing what is needed to develop the necessary S&T workforce
for the future, and calls for greater efforts to increase the representation
of women and minorities in the fields of science, engineering and technology.
The report was issued by BEST, an organization seeking to foster "a
stronger, more diverse U.S. workforce in science, engineering and technology
by increasing the participation of under- represented groups."
BEST, which stands for Building Engineering and Science Talent, is a
three-year partnership of government, industry, and academic leaders
(for more information see http://www.bestworkforce.org).
As a follow-on to recommendations of the Congressional Commission on
the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and
Technology Development (see /fyi/2000/fyi00.087.htm),
its purpose is to determine what has been proven effective in encouraging
"women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and persons
with disabilities to choose and stay with science and math educational
paths." The findings of this interim progress report, issued one
year into BEST's lifespan, were made public at a congressional briefing
on September 26.
This building crisis, the report warns, "stems from the gap
between the nation's growing need for scientists, engineers, and
other technically skilled workers, and its production of them."
The report cites data from the Labor Department and the National
Science Board regarding the expected creation of new S&T jobs,
the decline in undergraduate and graduate degree production in
engineering and the physical sciences since the early 1990s, the
low percentage of women and minorities in science, engineering
and technology compared to their representation in the entire
U.S. population, the reliance on foreign workers, and the
anticipated retirement of many in the S&T workforce.
Closing this projected gap, the report says, "will require a national
commitment to develop more of the talent of all our citizens, especially
the under-represented majority - the women, minorities, and persons
with disabilities who comprise a disproportionately small part"
of the S&T workforce. Initial recommendations include tools to help
communities develop workforce diversity, a coherent national strategy
and increased federal, state and local resources for expanding "educational
opportunities in mathematics and science for under-represented groups."
Research universities are urged to become more involved in elementary
and secondary science and math education, make greater efforts to slow
the attrition rate of women and minorities at the undergraduate and
graduate levels, and provide more and better faculty role models. Companies
are also encouraged to strengthen their presence in pre-K through 12th
grade education, use diversity as a criterion in partnering with universities,
and "create a culture of inclusiveness in the workplace."
The report calls on professional societies, foundations, and other non-profit
groups to work together, "project a more positive public image
of science, engineering, and technology," and "mobilize at
the grass roots" level to encourage diversity.