Scientist shortage? Maybe not

But nearly two years after he testified before Congress, Teitelbaum says the global financial crisis — and the U.S. government's bid to provide stimulus aid for research — may make the employment picture even worse.

Many of the engineers and mathematicians who helped Wall Street firms develop complex credit default swaps and financial derivatives, he says, are finding themselves out of work as their employers shed jobs. And the billions of dollars that Congress promises to help sustain research will probably dry up after two or three years.

"We don't know how that's going to work out through the system," he says.

Holdren notes that Obama has committed to spending 3% of the USA's gross domestic product on research. In the long run, he says, it'll require "a substantial stepping up by the private sector, which funds about two-thirds of R&D (research and development) in this country right now and will have to continue to do that."

Scan Bureau of Labor Statistics projections and you won't find words like "crisis" or even "shortfall."

In its most recent Occupational Outlook Handbook, BLS says engineering employment is, indeed, expected to grow 11% by 2016 — a 1.3% average yearly increase typical for all occupations — but that the number of engineering graduates "should be in rough balance with the number of job openings."

The number of engineering bachelor's degrees grew 10% from 2000 to 2005, according to the National Science Foundation, a 1.7% average yearly increase.

You won't find hand-wringing, but you find handbook analysts warning that off-shoring of engineering work "will likely dampen domestic employment growth to some degree."

Worldwide, BLS says, well-trained, often English-speaking engineers are "willing to work at much lower salaries than U.S. engineers."

A good problem to have?

Meanwhile, a few education policy experts say the push for more scientists and engineers has already prompted many public high schools to dilute Advanced Placement classes in a bid to attract more kids.

"We're doing this with the same juvenile, fad-minded overselling and incoherence that we deploy in the face of any major new education project," says Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.

"We want to imagine that we can make schools dance in a way that'll quickly deliver subtle refinements in output," he says. "The problem is that we can't currently provide schools that do their core work passably well. All of our STEM aspirations risk becoming a whole new set of distractions, programs and silliness — and all in order to make, at most, marginal differences."

But Education Secretary Arne Duncan says a surplus of STEM graduates is a problem he'd like to have.

"As we get more and more of these technological breakthroughs, there are going to be jobs in fields available that don't even exist today. If these guys can come out and be those innovators and be those creators and inventors, they're going to create new opportunities that we can't even envision or begin to comprehend today."

Contributing: Traci Watson

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...