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Suggested Citation:"The Problem." National Academy of Sciences. 2003. Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry, and Government. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10647.
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THE PROBLEM

The United States is facing a crisis in science and engineering talent and expertise. For decades, U.S. scientific and technological production and innovation flourished, largely because of the nation’s ability to recruit talented American students into the science and engineering disciplines, and when domestic talent was unavailable, to import the best scientists and engineers from around the world.

The shifting of traditional forces and balances contributes to this crisis. Americans live longer and spend less of their lives working. Only now—for the first time in 30 years—is the birthrate exceeding replacement.12 The result is a shrinking workforce, and despite an economic downturn, there is an unprecedented labor shortage, with thousands of jobs going unfilled.13

The demographics of the United States are changing. Women and minorities together make up 60 percent of the total workforce,14 but they are dramatically underrepresented in S&E. Women comprise 46 percent of the total labor force, but only 23 percent of the S&E labor force.15 African Americans and ethnic minorities constitute 24 percent of the total population but only 7 percent of the S&E labor force.16 This means the majority of Americans is underrepresented in S&E.

Furthermore, a large cohort of S&E professionals educated in the 1950s and 1960s is soon to retire and fewer U.S. students are choosing careers in S&E.17

The result is that the domestic S&E workforce is dwindling, and future projections are not encouraging. The United States achieved pre-eminence in science and technology partly because it was able to recruit and educate the best talent from around the world. However, a number of factors are beginning to make it more difficult for the nation to continue to rely on foreign talent, and it now is unclear whether the nation can expect to have an adequate supply of scientists and engineering professionals needed to maintain its long-established global leadership.

Suggested Citation:"The Problem." National Academy of Sciences. 2003. Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry, and Government. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10647.
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Many interested parties have issued reports on their findings and are conducting studies on this important planning issue. Key among them was the February 2001 report issued by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, commonly referred to as the “Hart-Rudman Report”.18 It states unequivocally:

“Second only to a weapon of mass destruction detonating in an American city, we can think of nothing more dangerous than a failure to manage properly science, technology, and education for the common good over the next quarter-century.”

Another report, “The Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization,”19 similarly warned:

“Government needs to play an active and deliberate part in expanding and deepening the pool of military, civilian, and commercial talent in science, engineering, and systems operations the nation will need to maintain its position as the number one space-faring country in the 21st century.”

In January 2001, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) placed development of federal human capital on its list of high-risk issues. Fewer than eight months later, the President’s Management Agenda20 cited workforce planning and restructuring as one of five critically needed government-wide management reforms.

The concern over the adequacy of the nation’s S&E workforce is an issue rising to the top of many federal and corporate agendas.

12  

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 5, No. 5. Washington, DC: DHHS, Feb 12, 2002.

13  

Dr. Shelly Hymes, Executive Director, U.S. Dept. of Labor. Office of the 21st Century Workforce. Oct 24, 2001. Personal Communication.

14  

U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Report on American Workforce [Table 5, p. 126]. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2001

15  

National Science Foundation. Science and Engineering Indicators 2002 [p. 3-12]. Arlington, VA: NSF, 2002. Available online: http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/start.htm).

16  

National Science Foundation. Science and Engineering Indicators 2002 [p. 3-13]. Arlington, VA: NSF, 2002. Available online: http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/start.htm).

17  

National Science Foundation. Science and Engineering Indicators 2002 [Figure 2-11]. Arlington, VA: NSF, 2002. Available online: http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/start.htm).

Suggested Citation:"The Problem." National Academy of Sciences. 2003. Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry, and Government. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10647.
×

18  

U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century. Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change [p.30]. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2001.

19  

Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization. Report to Congress [p. 10]. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2001.

20  

Office of Management and Budget, The President’s Management Agenda, FY 2002. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2001.

Suggested Citation:"The Problem." National Academy of Sciences. 2003. Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry, and Government. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10647.
×
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Suggested Citation:"The Problem." National Academy of Sciences. 2003. Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry, and Government. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10647.
×
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Suggested Citation:"The Problem." National Academy of Sciences. 2003. Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry, and Government. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10647.
×
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"The Problem." National Academy of Sciences. 2003. Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry, and Government. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10647.
×
Page 7
Suggested Citation:"The Problem." National Academy of Sciences. 2003. Envisioning a 21st Century Science and Engineering Workforce for the United States: Tasks for University, Industry, and Government. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10647.
×
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At the request of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR), Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, presents in this brief paper her views of the challenges of the 21st century for the science and engineering workforce. Dr. Jackson identifies factors that she believes are contributing to a declining science and engineering workforce, describes the risks and consequences of this decline, and proposes specific, short-term tasks for universities, industry, and the federal government to strengthen and revitalize the workforce.

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