rapidly. The Department of Labor predicts that the number of new jobs requiring science, engineering, and technical training will increase by 51 percent between 1998 and 2008. That’s four times the projected average rate of job growth. The fastest rate of growth will be in computer, mathematical, and operations research, an area in which the number of undergraduate degrees has declined significantly.
The short-term response to the growing demand for technically trained workers has been to increase the number of temporary visas available to noncitizens with the needed technical skills, but this is not an optimum solution. U.S. citizens worry that their jobs are going to noncitizens and that this strategy is really an effort to keep salaries low. In addition, these workers are acquiring valuable skills on the job, but there is no guarantee that they will be using them in the United States. The Council warns that the United States needs to be educating more of its young people in science and engineering if it is to maintain its innovative capacity. If it does not, U.S. companies will have to hire even more noncitizens or get the work done abroad.
One cannot draw a straight line from any of these nontechnological factors to an eventual technological development. The most powerful influences are the large national and international economic forces that are impossible to predict or to link directly to individual technologies. Still, we cannot ignore them in considering where technology is likely to move. Although economic growth in the United States has slowed, the overall condition of the economy is strong. With companies apparently willing to invest in R&D and venture capital funds available to back new ideas, the general prospect for innovation is sunny.
When one begins to focus on specific industries or technologies, in each case a different mix of factors comes into play. There can be no easy generalizations, because each case will be different. Venture capital is critical in one case, of secondary importance in others, and irrelevant in yet another. The same is true for all the other factors. The only operable generalization is that it’s wise to cast a large net when considering forces that will influence technological development and then to evaluate them carefully to see which are most important in the specific instance.
Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy, National Research Council, Trends in FederalSupport of Research and Graduate Education, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., July 2001.
Council of Economic Advisors, The Economic Impact of Third-Generation Wireless Technology, Washington, D.C., October 2000.
Industrial Research Institute, “R&D Trends Forecast for 2001,”Washington, D.C., October 2000.