"An Emerging and Critical Problem of the Science and
Engineering Labor Force,
A Companion to Science and Engineering Indicators 2004"
"Every two years the National Science Board supervises the collection
of a very broad set of data trends in science and technology in the
United States, which it publishes as Science and Engineering Indicators
(Indicators). In preparing Indicators 2004, we have observed a troubling
decline in the number of U.S. citizens who are training to become
scientists and engineers, whereas the number of jobs requiring science
and engineering (S&E) training continues to grow. Our recently
published report entitled The Science and Engineering Workforce/Realizing
America's Potential (NSB 03-69, 2003) comes to a similar conclusion.
These trends threaten the economic welfare and security of our country.
"If the trends identified in Indicators 2004 continue
undeterred, three things will happen. The number of jobs in the U.S.
economy that require science and engineering training will grow; the
number of U.S. citizens prepared for those jobs will, at best, be
level; and the availability of people from other countries who have
science and engineering training will decline, either because of limits
to entry imposed by U.S. national security restrictions or because
of intense global competition for people with these skills. The United
States has always depended on the inventiveness of its people in order
to compete in the world marketplace. Now, preparation of the S&E
workforce is a vital arena for national competitiveness.
"Even if action is taken today to change these trends,
the reversal is 10 to 20 years away. The students entering the science
and engineering workforce in 2004 with advanced degrees decided to
take the necessary math courses to enable this career path when they
were in middle school, up to 14 years ago. The students making that
same decision in middle school today won't complete advanced training
for science and engineering occupations until 2018 or 2020. If action
is not taken now to change these trends, we could reach 2020 and find
that the ability of U.S. research and education institutions to regenerate
has been damaged and that their preeminence has been lost to other
areas of the world.
"There Are No Quick Fixes
"There is general agreement that the science and technology
enterprise, built on people with skills in S&E, is of vital importance
to the nation's health, security, and prosperity. There is less recognition
of the corollary: that continued production of a workforce with skills
in science and engineering requires sustained support at a national
"Resources to develop an S&E workforce are not like
the money supply, where changes can bring measurable response in days
or weeks. Years or decades of effort are needed to build facilities
for education, train faculty, and support students through an educational
pipeline of 16 years or more. Any significant increase in the number
of U.S. citizens who become scientists and engineers requires sustained
"Trends in the Science and Engineering Workforce
"The number of jobs requiring S&E skills in the
U.S. labor force is growing almost 5 percent per year. In comparison,
the rest of the labor force is growing at just over 1 percent. Before
September 11, 2001, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected
that S&E occupations would increase at three times the rate of
all occupations. The rise projected by the BLS was 2.2 million, representing
a 47 percent increase in the number of S&E jobs by 2010. The rates
of increase between 1980 and 2000 ranged from 18 percent for the life
sciences to 123 percent for jobs in math and computer science (all
data are from Indicators 2004, Chapter 3, unless otherwise noted).
"The average age of the S&E workforce is rising.
Many of those who entered the expanding S&E workforce in the 1960s
and 1970s (the baby boom generation) are expected to retire in the
next 20 years, and their children are not choosing careers in S&E
in the same numbers as their parents (Indicators 2004, Overview).
The percentage of women, for example, choosing math and computer science
careers fell 4 percentage points between 1993 and 1999.
"Growth in the S&E labor force has been maintained
at a rate well above the rate of producing S&E degrees because
a large number of foreign-born S&E graduates have migrated to
the United States. The proportion of foreign-born students in S&E
fields and workers in S&E occupations continues to rise steadily.
Persons born outside the United States accounted for 14 percent of
all S&E occupations in 1990. Between 1990 and 2000 the proportion
of foreign-born people with bachelor's degrees in S&E occupations
rose from 11 to 17 percent; the proportion of foreign-born with master's
degrees rose from 19 to 29 percent; and the proportion of foreign-born
with PhDs in the S&E labor force rose from 24 to 38 percent.
"Could the News Get Worse?
"By attracting scientists and engineers born and trained
in other countries to the United States to work, we have maintained
the growth of the S&E labor force without a commensurate increase
in support for the long-term costs of training and attracting native
U.S citizens to these fields. Two trends are operating to disrupt
this equilibrium; thus, this shortcut to a trained workforce is not
likely to continue.
"Global competition: Since the 1980s other countries
have increased investment in S&E education and the S&E workforce
at higher rates than the United States has. Between 1993 and 1997
the OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,
a group of 40 nations with highly developed market economies) increased
their number of S&E research jobs 23 percent, more than twice
the 11 percent increase in S&E research jobs in the United States.
"Slower entry: Visas for students and S&E workers
have been issued more slowly since the events of September 11, owing
to both increased security restrictions and a drop in applications.
The U.S. State Department issued 20 percent fewer visas for foreign
students in 2001 than in 2000, and the rate fell further between 2001
"From parents to the Federal leadership, Americans are
working to improve education in the United States. The people who
will fill the nation's science and technology jobs 20 years from now
are currently in school. They will choose advanced training in colleges
and universities sometimes far from their home communities and, in
still other communities, will contribute to the labor force over decades.
The investments involved in growing a workforce trained in science
and engineering must be made at local, state, and national levels,
and in every region.
"We all share responsibility with our local communities
to make quality education in math and science a priority and to recognize
the impact this education will have on the national workforce far
into the future. We share responsibility with our states to make colleges
and universities strong and to make science and technology education
accessible to all the citizens who choose them. The Federal Government
has primary responsibility for supporting higher education in science
and technology at levels that allow the study of science or engineering,
and future careers in these fields, to be competitively attractive
with other fields. If the Federal Government ensures that parents
see science and engineering careers as promising practical choices
for their children's futures, those parents will insist on quality
education in the precollege years. Quality education in math and science
is everyone's challenge and responsibility. The nation's economic
welfare and security are at stake."