UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS TO THE S&E WORKFORCE

In recent times, efforts have been made not only in the private and non-profit sectors but also in a variety of federal departments and agencies to determine the nature of the risks and the consequences to the United States of undervaluing and relying on market forces to engender an adequate S&E workforce. Taken singly, no one risk is debilitating. Taken together, there is substantial cause for concern.

  • The federal S&E workforce is shrinking: The Department of Defense S&E workforce declined from 45,000 to 28,000 in the decade between 1990 and 2000.21 Many more will soon retire. Other agencies reflect the same pattern. Approximately 45 percent of all scientists and engineers employed in the federal government are 45 years of age or older.22 Federal agencies have not hired scientists and engineers in significant numbers in recent years.

  • The ability to recruit talent from abroad may be limited in the future. Historically, the United States recruited globally and had access to the best minds worldwide. Several factors may reduce this source. Legislative pressure to restrict immigration increased in the wake of September 11, 2001. Several bills have been passed into law since September 11 to prevent suspected terrorists from entering the United States through loopholes in immigration laws and the nation’s visa system.23,24

  • Comparable opportunities are luring foreign students home. Nations that once supplied much of the U.S. foreign S&E workforce, such as South Korea, now have the ability to provide their own students and graduates with first-world opportunities. Other countries, such as China, are moving swiftly in the same direction.

  • “Stay rates” of foreign scientists and engineers cannot rise much farther: “Stay rates” of foreign students have been both stable and relatively high. Between 1994 and 1999, the overall rate was 63 percent, with 73 percent in the



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Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry and Government UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS TO THE S&E WORKFORCE In recent times, efforts have been made not only in the private and non-profit sectors but also in a variety of federal departments and agencies to determine the nature of the risks and the consequences to the United States of undervaluing and relying on market forces to engender an adequate S&E workforce. Taken singly, no one risk is debilitating. Taken together, there is substantial cause for concern. The federal S&E workforce is shrinking: The Department of Defense S&E workforce declined from 45,000 to 28,000 in the decade between 1990 and 2000.21 Many more will soon retire. Other agencies reflect the same pattern. Approximately 45 percent of all scientists and engineers employed in the federal government are 45 years of age or older.22 Federal agencies have not hired scientists and engineers in significant numbers in recent years. The ability to recruit talent from abroad may be limited in the future. Historically, the United States recruited globally and had access to the best minds worldwide. Several factors may reduce this source. Legislative pressure to restrict immigration increased in the wake of September 11, 2001. Several bills have been passed into law since September 11 to prevent suspected terrorists from entering the United States through loopholes in immigration laws and the nation’s visa system.23, 24 Comparable opportunities are luring foreign students home. Nations that once supplied much of the U.S. foreign S&E workforce, such as South Korea, now have the ability to provide their own students and graduates with first-world opportunities. Other countries, such as China, are moving swiftly in the same direction. “Stay rates” of foreign scientists and engineers cannot rise much farther: “Stay rates” of foreign students have been both stable and relatively high. Between 1994 and 1999, the overall rate was 63 percent, with 73 percent in the

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Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry and Government physical sciences, 66 percent in mathematics, and 81 percent in computers and electrical engineering.25 There appears to be little room for “stay rate” increases in some disciplines, eliminating this as a solution to looming shortages.26 Underutilization of talent in the United States. Unless the nation makes a more serious effort to inspire, educate, and recruit minority students to S&E, it will neglect huge potential contributions by its own population that would be significant to replenish the talent lost to retirement. The education gap is growing. There is a big difference between providing new jobs and the training of the workforce. Skill sets required for jobs do not necessarily match the skill sets or disciplinary boundaries of degree programs. The declining percentage of doctorates compared to the total S&E workforce, in itself, indicates workers with less expertise in the most needed skill sets. The lack of adequate data hampers policy making. There is a lack of reliable data to serve as a platform for public policy. For instance, there are no reliable data on what happens to individuals with H1B visas, or what happens to the graduates from community colleges, which also contribute to the S&E workforce. Nor is there reliable workforce data at the sub-field level, where much of the “biocentric” activity in the physical sciences (e.g., biophysics, growth in bioelectronics, and biomechanics) is taking place.27 Changing circumstances can create temporary or specific exceptions to any one risk mentioned above. Yet, as a whole, the risks combine to paint a very sobering picture of future U.S. competitiveness in science and engineering talent. 21   U.S. House. Armed Services Committee. Testimony of Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Pete Aldridge. 12 July 2001. 22   National Science Foundation. Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in S&E [Appendix Table 5-22 (1997)]. Arlington, VA: NSF, 2000. 23   U.S. House. 107th Congress, 2nd Session. H.R. 3525, Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002. Available online: http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/cong009.html [December 6, 2002]. 24   U.S. Senate. 107th Congress, 2nd Session. A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide permanent authority for the admission of “S” visa non-immigrants. Available online: http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/cong009.html [December 6, 2002]. 25   Michael G. Finn. Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities [Table 1]. Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge Associated Universities, 2001. 26   Ibid, p. 3. 27   Committee to Assess the Portfolio of the Division of Science Resources Studies of NSF. Measuring the Science and Engineering Enterprise [pp. 66, 72, 76]. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.