A Publication of WTVP

America is facing a number of challenges as we seek to compete in a 21st century global economy. As we look at the projections for the quantity and quality of our future workforce, we see shortages in a number of areas critical for prosperity in this knowledge economy. Two areas in which shortages are projected include engineering and science.

In previous articles we’ve mentioned the American workforce is facing real quantitative challenges over the next few decades. Starting in 2010, we’ll experience a shortfall of about 5 to 10 million workers. Demographic projections further indicate this progression will continue so that by 2030 there will be a shortfall of about 30 million workers. The reasons for these projections include the retirement of millions of baby boomers and a population growth rate of less than 1 percent for the foreseeable future. Mitigating factors may include the fact that many older workers will forgo retirement to work longer. Other mitigating factors will be the numbers of new immigrants entering the labor market.

These projected shortages will impact critical occupations needed to spark innovation and new technologies. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by 2008 approximately 6 million openings will exist for engineers, scientists, and technicians. The National Science Board also projects employment in the fields of physical science will increase by 15 percent and engineering by 20 percent over the next five years.

As opportunities emerge, America faces a series of dilemmas:
• Low numbers of American youth are majoring in science and engineering. The number of Americans ages 18 to 24 receiving science and engineering degrees has fallen to 16th in the world compared to 30 years ago. Out of the 1.1 million high school seniors in the U.S. who took a college entrance exam in 2002, just under 6 percent indicated plans to pursue a degree in engineering, nearly a 33 percent decrease from the previous decade.
• Today, about 40 percent of graduate students in U.S. engineering, math, and computer science programs are foreign nationals. In the natural sciences, the number of noncitizens is one in four.
• U.S. children are losing ground internationally in math and science. The U.S. ranked 23rd out of 29 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in math achievement of the highest-performing students. It ranked 28th out of 29 OECD countries on average scores of 15-year-old students on the “problem-solving scale.” The U.S. also dropped to the bottom quartile for 12th graders in international rankings of math and science of all countries participating, according to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.
• The world is catching up and surpassing the U.S. in the development of new scientists and engineers. If current trends continue, some estimates show that by 2010, more than 90 percent of all scientists and engineers in the world will be living in Asia.
• Finally, Americans aren’t generally aware of these alarming trends in education for our children compared to children in the rest of the world. About 70 percent of high school parents think their child’s school is teaching the right amount of math and science.

Clearly, much work lies ahead for us as we seek to turn these alarming trends around. IBI