Birkler offered several lessons learned from the studies for the U.K. Ministry of Defense. First, managing workforce transitions requires (1) careful analysis of the time series of demand for labor, down to the skill level, (2) identification and characterization of core capabilities, and (3) long-term planning for the maintenance of those capabilities. Second, ignoring the complexities runs the risk of unnecessary expenditures for relearning, program demands for labor exceeding the supply, and loss of core capabilities.


Burt Barnow, Associate Director for Research at the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies, drew several lessons from the work of the NRC Committee on Workforce Needs in Information Technology, which issued a report in 2001.1

The demand for information technology (IT) workers was growing rapidly in the 1990s, leading to controversy over whether the United States could meet industry needs. Some members of the IT community argued that there was an IT workforce problem, including claims that not enough graduates were being produced by U.S. colleges and universities in computer-related fields and that secondary school and postsecondary students in the United States were poorly prepared in math and science, compared with students in other countries. But other observations suggested that there was not a problem—that, for example, older IT workers might be available who had been previously discriminated against in terms of hiring, compensation, promotion, and access to retraining opportunities and that workers in IT come from a broad range of disciplines and backgrounds, not only math and science, so that the actual pool of workers might be considerably larger than the industry describes. The NRC committee found that:

  • The IT labor market is complex and dynamic: occupations change content, and the needs of industry change rapidly;

  • Government labor market data often do not tell us enough about the current labor market;

  • There are a number of important dimensions to the IT labor market;

  • Mechanisms by which workers acquire skills and employers accept them are not that clear; learning on the job is best; and

  • In the IT workforce are many workers who do not have IT degrees.

Barnow offered several lessons applicable to the current study of workforce capacity to implement the vision for space exploration, including the following:

  • Circumstances can change rapidly; the IT bubble burst less than 2 years after completion of the NRC’s IT workforce study.

  • The time period to be analyzed and the occupations of interest need to be defined as precisely as possible; assessments that look forward a shorter period into the future provide more accuracy.

  • Competitors for the workers of interest are an important consideration.

  • Different attributes of government, private, and international sectors are also important.

  • To the extent that projections must be used, the track record of past projections should be examined, especially to see if there were systematic errors.


National Research Council, Building a Workforce for the Information Economy, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001.

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