Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Workforce Needs for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Defense Industrial Base, National Academy of Engineering, National Research Council, National Academies. "5 Wrap-Up Session." Report of a Workshop on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce Needs for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Defense Industrial Base. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2012.
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Report of a Workshop on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce Needs for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Defense Industrial Base
social behavior, human-machine interface, and data-to-decision capabilities; and autonomous systems, including multifunctional materials, robust chemistries, and self-sustaining power. The DOD requires STEM-trained personnel who can work across disciplinary boundaries and interface with sophisticated computational systems. STEM-competent staff are also required with the ability to understand other cultures and to participate in the global S&T community for technology awareness, collaborative exploration of cutting-edge science and engineering, and anticipation of technological surprise.
Anita Jones, session moderator, explained that there is no dearth of data addressing the STEM workforce needs; there have been numerous surveys made over a long period of time—this is not a new topic. There was, however, an absence of discussion of whether the data are consistent. An interesting point is that temporary-visa holders, who are earning a large percentage of higher degrees, are not leaving in droves but are in fact more likely to stay than not. DOD leadership is thinking about future STEM needs. Jones noted that there is, however, little data on the effectiveness of different kinds of intervention from K-12 or even K-20, and it would be very helpful to have those data; the intervention that you want to make is very different at different stages of an individual’s development. Anecdotally, it would appear that the STEM workforce in DOD and the laboratories and those working in direct support of acquisition are affected by exogenous factors, Jones observed. For example, the BRAC has had an effect on the STEM workforce. Also, a depressed economy delays retirements and causes the seniority system to squeeze the availability of junior STEM appointments, particularly in the laboratories. There is also the looming possibility of reduced federal budgets and a new era of austerity flowing from the debt crisis. There do not, however, appear to be good data on shortfalls in supply, but it will nonetheless be important to pay attention to what DOD and industry have done to be adaptive and to retool.
Sharon Levin, session moderator, noted that the speakers and panelists presented and discussed data on proficiency in mathematics, science, and reading and showed that this has not declined in the United States. There is, however, attrition in the numbers who are in the STEM pipeline as they progress through high school and college and make career choices. Levin mentioned the discussion on the important question of how one defines “STEM workforce.” The definition can depend on the question being asked and the context. The Bureau of Labor Statistics supplies data that fall into the Standard Occupational Classifications, which can be selected and combined in whatever way makes sense. There are also data from the National Science Foundation, which have been structured to be used for some purposes. Nonetheless, there does not appear to be a consensus on what constitutes a STEM worker, nor on how one can go about measuring STEM.
Harold Salzman of Rutgers University thought that there was not a STEM crisis requiring government intervention but that markets will respond to demand signals, although markets are becoming segmented. A lot of lower-level needs with respect to computer science and information technology are being met offshore. This means that if less of the lower-level work is being performed domestically, we can redirect the focus within the United States to higher-level skills.
Committee member Burt Barnow described the difficulty in ascertaining whether there is a labor supply shortage. It is unlikely that we will have any great shortages, but there can nonetheless be mismatches between supply and demand for a particular skill. As the market is changing, he noted, there will be a time needed for transition to a labor force with a different set of skills addressing new technology. Retraining and other such opportunities to update workers’ skills will be important to make the best use of the workforce that we already have.
Dixie Sommers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, presented BLS data and occupational forecasts out to 2018. There will be increasing demand in the future for areas that are of importance to DOD, implying recruiting competition for computer sciences and life sciences and less for engineers, although it should be noted that the latter included both engineers and those working in sales. Here again, the definition of STEM could matter.