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Science and Engineering Workforce Demographics

There have been many efforts by various organizations to examine demographic aspects of the U.S. aerospace workforce and the science and engineering workforce more broadly. These include statistical surveys of undergraduate and graduate enrollment and degree award trends and assessments of past and projected future employment numbers as a function of area of expertise, employment sector, and student or employee nationality. This chapter summarizes highlights of several of these studies that were discussed at the January 23-24, 2006, workshop.

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION STUDIES ON ENROLLMENT AND GRADUATION TRENDS

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has a long history of tracking data on science and engineering enrollment and graduation trends, and Joan Burrelli, Senior Analyst in the NSF Division of Science Resources Statistics, discussed some of those data from the perspective of aerospace science and engineering.1 She noted that cyclic trends in aerospace engineering employment are among the most pronounced in all of the natural science and engineering fields.

As with all natural science and engineering enrollment, first-time, full-time, graduate enrollment in aerospace engineering and space science mirrors unemployment trends. Higher unemployment in general encourages graduate enrollment, because students are more likely to elect to stay in or enter graduate school when they cannot get jobs. Despite the concern about a precipitous decline in applications from foreign students after 2001, the number of first-time, full-time graduate students enrolled in natural science and engineering fields grew slightly between 2000 and 2003 (the most recent date available). Increased graduate enrollment by U.S. citizens and permanent residents more than compensated for the reduction in foreign students.

Burrelli indicated that aerospace engineering and space science graduate enrollments appear to have been less affected by visa issues than has enrollment as a whole for natural science and engineering and that the aerospace and space science fields have experienced a relatively smaller drop in international students than has been the case for total natural science and engineering enrollments. Between 2000 and 2003, first-time graduate enrollment by U.S. citizens and permanent residents in aerospace engineering and space science grew in real numbers as well as in comparison to non-U.S. enrollment in the same fields.

The NSF data show that bachelor’s degrees granted each year in all natural science and engineering fields taken together have been increasing since 1991 and are at an all time high. Bachelor’s degrees granted each year in aerospace engineering and space science have followed an upward trend since the slump in the late 1990s, but they have not recovered to the peaks that occurred in the late 1960s (during the Apollo era) or in the mid-1980s through early 1990s (during the defense buildup and the early years of the Strategic Defense Initiative). The number of students enrolled in aerospace engineering is small compared to the numbers enrolled in other specialties such as electrical and mechanical engineering.

1  

Links to key NSF databases can be found at <www.nsf.gov/statistics/>.



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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report 3 Science and Engineering Workforce Demographics There have been many efforts by various organizations to examine demographic aspects of the U.S. aerospace workforce and the science and engineering workforce more broadly. These include statistical surveys of undergraduate and graduate enrollment and degree award trends and assessments of past and projected future employment numbers as a function of area of expertise, employment sector, and student or employee nationality. This chapter summarizes highlights of several of these studies that were discussed at the January 23-24, 2006, workshop. NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION STUDIES ON ENROLLMENT AND GRADUATION TRENDS The National Science Foundation (NSF) has a long history of tracking data on science and engineering enrollment and graduation trends, and Joan Burrelli, Senior Analyst in the NSF Division of Science Resources Statistics, discussed some of those data from the perspective of aerospace science and engineering.1 She noted that cyclic trends in aerospace engineering employment are among the most pronounced in all of the natural science and engineering fields. As with all natural science and engineering enrollment, first-time, full-time, graduate enrollment in aerospace engineering and space science mirrors unemployment trends. Higher unemployment in general encourages graduate enrollment, because students are more likely to elect to stay in or enter graduate school when they cannot get jobs. Despite the concern about a precipitous decline in applications from foreign students after 2001, the number of first-time, full-time graduate students enrolled in natural science and engineering fields grew slightly between 2000 and 2003 (the most recent date available). Increased graduate enrollment by U.S. citizens and permanent residents more than compensated for the reduction in foreign students. Burrelli indicated that aerospace engineering and space science graduate enrollments appear to have been less affected by visa issues than has enrollment as a whole for natural science and engineering and that the aerospace and space science fields have experienced a relatively smaller drop in international students than has been the case for total natural science and engineering enrollments. Between 2000 and 2003, first-time graduate enrollment by U.S. citizens and permanent residents in aerospace engineering and space science grew in real numbers as well as in comparison to non-U.S. enrollment in the same fields. The NSF data show that bachelor’s degrees granted each year in all natural science and engineering fields taken together have been increasing since 1991 and are at an all time high. Bachelor’s degrees granted each year in aerospace engineering and space science have followed an upward trend since the slump in the late 1990s, but they have not recovered to the peaks that occurred in the late 1960s (during the Apollo era) or in the mid-1980s through early 1990s (during the defense buildup and the early years of the Strategic Defense Initiative). The number of students enrolled in aerospace engineering is small compared to the numbers enrolled in other specialties such as electrical and mechanical engineering. 1   Links to key NSF databases can be found at <www.nsf.gov/statistics/>.

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report To illustrate the complexity of the problem of relating graduation trends to occupational trends, Burrelli used NSF data to make a rough comparison of the population of aerospace engineering and space science2 degree holders with the number of degree holders actually working in those fields in 2003. In that year there were approximately 350,000 degree holders in aerospace engineering and space science. However, a significant majority of those degree holders, 270,000 or 77 percent, were not employed as aerospace engineers or space scientists. Similarly, the data indicated that of the 200,000 workers employed as aerospace engineers or space scientists, about 120,000 did not hold degrees in those fields. Consequently, only about 80,000 workers, corresponding to 23 percent of the degree holders and 40 percent of the aerospace engineering and space science workforce, were actually working in the field of their degree. However, many may be working in related fields, such as management. The committee notes that this situation illustrates the difficulty of identifying and filling workforce categories. It also illustrates the point that people with strong technical backgrounds can quite readily acquire the specialized knowledge to go into different (but related) fields. Consequently, recruitment need not be too tightly targeted to the momentarily required specializations. Burrelli also mentioned three likely influences on future natural science and engineering enrollment and graduation trends. First, the college-age population in the United States is expected to begin to decline after 2015. Second, the number of foreign students in the United States as temporary residents has been declining since September 2001, although the number of permanent residents still has been growing. Third, enrollments tend to be very sensitive to employment opportunities, with first-time enrollments in a field declining in response to rising unemployment in the field, but with graduate student enrollments tending to rise when the employment picture softens. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS LABOR FORCE PROJECTIONS The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) periodically makes projections of the U.S. labor market, including the future size, industrial composition, and occupational distribution of the labor force. The projection process involves six steps, which address the following: Size and composition of the labor force (starting with Census Bureau data and considering participation rates based on recent trends), Growth of the aggregate economy (derived from multivariable macroeconomic models), Allocation of gross domestic product by consuming sector and product, Inter-industry relationships, Industry output and employment, and Occupational employment. At the committee’s February 22, 2006, meeting Nicholas Terrell from BLS discussed recent graduation and employment trends in selected areas of engineering and physical science, and he summarized the most recent BLS projections, which were released in 2004 for the period 2004 to 2014. Terrell noted that the number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded in aerospace engineering and in physics and astronomy has been increasing since 2000, while the number of Ph.D. degrees granted over the same period has stayed relatively flat. BLS projects an 8 percent growth in total employment between 2004 and 2014 for aerospace engineers and 7 percent growth for astronomers and physicists, compared to a projected 21 percent increase for the total of all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupations. (See Table 3.1.) 2   To estimate the number of space science degree holders Burrelli used data for atmospheric sciences, physics, and astronomy. This number is small compared to the number of aerospace engineers and constitutes only about 10 percent of the total number of aerospace S&E workers.

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report TABLE 3.1 Total Employment in 2004 and Projections for 2014 in Selected Fields   Employment (thousands) Growth Rate (%) Total Job Openings (thousands) 2004 2014 Total, all occupations 145,612 164,540 13 54,680 Science, technology, engineering and mathematics occupations 6,988 8,468 21 2,797 Aerospace engineers 76 82 8 25 Electrical and electronics engineers 299 331 11 91 Computer hardware engineers 77 84 10 20 Astronomers and physicists 16 17 7 6 SOURCE: Daniel E. Hecker, Occupational employment projections to 2014, Monthly Labor Review 128(11): 70-101, 2005. Assessment of the accuracy of projections is important to determine how much they should be relied on for policy analyses. The occupational classification system used for the Current Population Survey was relatively consistent between 1979 and 2000, so that rough assessments of the past success of the projections can be made. For five BLS projections issued between 1979 and 1988, the committee compared the percentage change projected by BLS with the actual change in employment over the period for three occupations—aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. The committee found that the BLS employment projections exceeded the actual employment totals in all three fields in all five cases. The projections for electrical and mechanical engineering tended to be closer to the actual figures, but still overly optimistic in terms of anticipating greater demand for these occupations than actually materialized. For the period 1988 to 2000, employment in mechanical engineering was projected to grow by 20 percent but actually grew by 16 percent, while for electrical engineering the projections and actual figures were 40 percent and 29 percent, respectively. However, for aerospace engineering for the same period the employment change was projected to be 13 percent but actually was −33 percent. In the committee’s view, BLS projections are, at best, estimates of what will happen. The projections are particularly poor at dealing with recessions and rapid changes in particular industries and occupations. This was evidently the case with the projections for aerospace engineering, which were unable to anticipate or take account of the consolidation of the industry that took place in the 1990s. Furthermore, the BLS classification of occupations probably is not as detailed as required by NASA. All aerospace engineers are lumped together, and specialties such as systems engineering are not identified at all. BOOZE ALLEN HAMILTON STUDIES ON THE SPACE INDUSTRIAL BASE John Williams, senior associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, explained the results of two studies that the company had conducted for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office in the early 2000s—the Space Industrial Base Study (SIBS) and the Space R&D Industrial Base Study (SRDIBS)—as well as findings from a 2004 Aerospace Workforce Review conducted by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). The SIBS noted a bimodal age distribution in the workforce with peak numbers clustering around 30 to 35 years and 45 to 50 years. Most industry CEOs who were interviewed for the study identified workforce issues as being especially critical. Competition was found to be increasing for a limited number of available scientists and engineers. The subsequent

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report SRDIBS reported some easing in the competition for scientists and engineers that had been created earlier by the “dot-com” expansion, but concern about attracting, retaining, and training new workers in critical skills was seen as a continuing or growing problem. The NDIA review was described as being consistent with the earlier studies, with nearly 10 percent of job vacancies being unfilled. As with the two prior studies, certain specific skill areas, such as systems engineering, optical design engineering, and software engineering, were identified as being particularly critical and difficult to fill.3 In summarizing the workforce assessment aspects of these studies, Williams noted that while he saw no immediate crisis, there are problems present today, and the longer-term trends are disturbing. He pointed to the volatility of the national security space market as a particular obstacle to predicting the skills demand beyond the near term. Williams did emphasize that transferring key skills that come from experience from the Apollo generation to younger workers was a most important challenge. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE PERSPECTIVES ON THE S&E WORKFORCE William Berry, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense (Laboratories and Basic Sciences), provided a Department of Defense (DOD) perspective on the S&E workforce. He described a situation in which potential employee interest and supply are falling while demand is increasing, but he noted that the data and predictive models on which to base firm conclusions are not especially robust. The Defense Department requires that its in-house scientists and engineers be U.S. citizens who are eligible to receive security clearances. The DOD currently employs 43 percent of all the scientists and engineers in the federal government. In 2002 that included 27 percent of all federal scientists (a substantial fraction of which are computer and mathematical scientists in the DOD) and 67 percent of all federal engineers, including nearly 80 percent or more of all federal electrical, industrial, and mechanical engineers. Aerospace engineers in the DOD accounted for 43 percent of the federal total in 2002. The current DOD civilian S&E population is aging. In 1985, 33 percent of all the DOD scientists and engineers who held Ph.D. degrees were over 50, but in 2005 that number had increased to 57 percent. Berry noted that this increase attests to the fact that hiring has not kept pace with attrition in the ranks. Current DOD projections based on the Defense Department’s budget plans through 2025 indicate the need for hiring 15,000 scientists and engineers over the next decade. This is an increase of 16 percent in the demand by 2012. The DOD believes, based on BLS projections, that the supply of (security clearance eligible) scientists and engineers in the areas of need for the DOD will not be sufficient. For example, Berry showed BLS projections for increases in total employment demand between 2004 and 2014 of 43 percent for software engineers, 26 percent for computer and information scientists, and 16 percent for atmospheric and space scientists. However, projections of the supply are flat in many disciplines of interest to the DOD. Consequently, the DOD believes that it must engage in a comprehensive strategy, which encompasses K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels, to attract more U.S. citizens into the technical fields of national security interest. Berry emphasized that recruiting from the underrepresented minority population of the workforce will also be critical. He explained that women and members of ethnic minority groups, when taken together, are in terms of numbers the majority of the potential workforce. However, they are significantly underrepresented in the current science and engineering workforce. Berry stated that national competitiveness and economic security require that the government do a better job of encouraging these groups to pursue careers in science and engineering. 3   All three studies dealt with jobs for which U.S. citizens or permanent residents who were eligible to receive security clearances were required.

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report COMMISSION ON THE FUTURE OF THE U.S. AEROSPACE INDUSTRY ASSESSMENT John Douglass, the President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association and a member of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, highlighted the commission’s conclusions on workforce issues. The aerospace industry comprises three main segments—civil aviation, military systems, and space systems. The size of the overall aerospace workforce declined from 1990 through 1995 and remained more or less flat from 1995 through 2005. The aerospace fraction of the total U.S. S&E workforce fell from about 30 percent in 1965 to 2 to 3 percent in 2002. One of the commission’s major recommendations was that “the nation [should] immediately reverse the decline in, and promote the growth of, a scientifically and technologically trained U.S. aerospace workforce.”4 Douglass stressed that federal investment in research and development is a critical part of the solution to the workforce problem, and he noted that there has been an increase in support for R&D, especially within the DOD. INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVES ON THE FUTURE AEROSPACE WORKFORCE Arnold Aldrich, Director of Program Operations at Lockheed Martin Corporation, provided a view from industry as seen from the Lockheed Martin. The overall aerospace workforce fell by 48 percent between 1990 and 1995, and it remained flat from 1995 to 2004. Citing BLS figures, Aldrich noted that the current industry workforce age distribution is bimodal, with the highest percentages of workers being those in the early years of their careers or else those over 40. This differs from the distribution of NASA’s employee population (see Chapter 2), which is mono-generational and is skewed toward age 40 and above. Aldrich reported that hiring at Lockheed Martin is currently not a problem and that it is consistent with replacement needs for retiring personnel. The company has been able to attract quality entry-level personnel. The fact that the company is large and has a national presence may be a factor in its ability to attract a workforce, whereas smaller, locally situated companies with unique specialties may have a more difficult time. Aldrich discussed the injection of workers who are over age 50 into the workforce where they can embark on second careers. He noted that as a consequence, the projected retirement “cliff” with accelerated departures of older workers appears not to be happening. Instead there is an increasing trend toward delayed retirements, and the size of the over-55 workforce is expected to increase. National trends toward escalating health care costs and eroded wealth may contribute to delayed retirements. With respect to meeting future workforce demands, Aldrich said that the current situation is stable and that projections of widespread shortages may be overstated. However, he noted that shortages may be developing in some particular skill areas in aerospace engineering, computer science, and electrical engineering. Furthermore, there is the potential for workforce demand to exceed supply within the next 5 years. Projections show that requirements are rising while undergraduate enrollments are flat or declining. Aldrich turned to the subject of an emerging global workforce. An international workforce is strengthening, both in numbers and in skill levels, and it offers workers who are one-third to one-fifth less expensive than U.S. workers with the same skills. Relief on H1-B visa restrictions would enable the U.S. market to take advantage of some of the foreign nationals. Industry needs to be able to tap the offshore workforce to remain competitive. At present, implementation of export controls and State Department licensing under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) pose a significant impediment to tapping the offshore workforce. 4   Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry, Final Report of the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry, 2002, p. xvi. Available from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.

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Issues Affecting the Future of the U.S. Space Science and Engineering Workforce: Interim Report Amplifying on a point stressed by Berry, Aldrich noted that a diverse workforce will be very important to future business success. The minority workforce pool is growing, and opportunities for minorities and women need to be enhanced. GENERAL CONCLUSIONS The committee draws several general conclusions from the data and perspectives summarized above, as follows: Although there are currently some problems in meeting demand, particularly for specific skills, the situation for major employers such as the DOD and the large aerospace companies is not now a major problem.5 Data on employment demand are difficult to obtain, particularly broken down by relevant skill areas, and those data and projections that exist are often ambiguous as one looks beyond the near-term future. Most longer-term projections do forecast a gap between supply and demand that is larger than exists today. However, the size and the scope of the gap are not clear. The problems with meeting future demand in the DOD are influenced by the need to employ U.S. citizens and permanent residents who can obtain security clearances. NASA’s workforce pool will be constrained in a fashion similar to the DOD’s to the extent that NASA must hire people who can work in areas controlled by ITAR. NASA’s mono-generational employee age distribution (see Chapter 2) is different from the distribution seen for the DOD and industry, both of which were described at the workshop as being either bimodal or more nearly like the distribution of the U.S. workforce as a whole. 5   The committee notes that this does not contradict the conclusions of the recent National Academies’ study Rising Above the Gathering Storm (see Chapter 1, footnote 3), which addressed the threat to U.S. economic competitiveness, not a current shortage of scientists and engineers for aerospace and defense needs.