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Science and Engineering Workforce Has Stalled In the US 433

dcblogs writes "The science and engineering workforce in the U.S. has flatlined, according to the Population Reference Bureau. As a percentage of the total labor force, S&E workers accounted for 4.9% of the workforce in 2010, a slight decline from the three previous years when these workers accounted for 5% of the workforce. That percentage has been essentially flat for the past decade. In 2000, it stood at 5.3%. The reasons for this trend aren't clear, but one factor may be retirements. S&E workers who are 55 and older accounted for 13% of this workforce in 2005; they accounted for 18% in 2010. 'This might imply that there aren't enough young people entering the S&E labor force,' said one research analyst."
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Science and Engineering Workforce Has Stalled In the US

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  • H1b propaganda (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:21PM (#39221663)

    Arrr, a shit storms a brewin!

  • by sethstorm ( 512897 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:22PM (#39221665) Homepage

    The more that business sends that kind of work offshore, the less interested people will be in having the rug pulled out from under them in the Holy and Unquestionable name of Global Competitiveness.

    You want to get people interested in science & engineering? Kill all the guest worker programs, prioritize citizens over internationals for university slots, and start working with business to guarantee long-term work to attract people back.

  • Young people. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by saintlupus ( 227599 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:22PM (#39221671) Homepage

    So, after a lifetime of watching older members of the science and engineering community get outsourced, downsized, run ragged, and generally mistreated by their employers, young people don't want to sign up for the same thing?

    Good for them. Maybe the kids today are smarter than we thought.


  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:22PM (#39221673) Journal

    Why would young people enter science and engineering when they can go into management and finance? Then they can take the credit and pay that would have been taken from them if they had gone into STEM.

  • by composer777 ( 175489 ) * on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:23PM (#39221679)

    What they should say is that there aren't enough people willing to work very hard for a an ever shrinking piece of the pie. What do they expect researchers to do when they keep cutting basic science funding? The numbers are terrible right now. Something like 10% of those with new Phd's that apply for a grant actually get it. Who in their right mind would get a Phd for a 10% chance of getting funding? They apparently expect Phd's to be happy to work indefinitely as a post-doc for 30K a year. This trend is very similar for recent engineering graduates.

  • Incentive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LatencyIsTooDamnHigh ( 2574249 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:23PM (#39221689)
    Maybe if donations to universities went to beefing up outdated science & engineering departments instead of athletes, it might "trickle up" to the real world. But that's just crazy.
  • by OldGunner ( 2576825 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:27PM (#39221741)
    Even if someone decides to enter S&E career fields, there are very few real jobs offered by real employers -- it is much easier to use "this gun is for hire" contractors that you can REALLY abuse and dump with few consequences.
  • Re:Incentive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by s73v3r ( 963317 ) <> on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:36PM (#39221855)

    Athletic departments usually sustain themselves. And in the vast majority of schools, there's a pretty big wall between funding for the school, and funding for the athletic programs.

  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:39PM (#39221883) Journal

    Or how about turning it upside down, and offshore the most expensive and at the same time most generic workforce: top and middle management.

    Of course, that would never happen. The system is rigged, by and for corporate psychopaths.

  • bizare... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ( 760528 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:43PM (#39221941)

    That is the most bizarre set of stats i've ever read....

    I cant understand why they would think the PERCENTAGE of the workforce for s&e would be on the increase? That just baffles me.

    Its like, checkout people, the number you have is dependent on the number of retail places around, which is dependant on the population, and hence its probably always going to be relatively fixed (as a percentage). At the moment, that might be on the decrease cause of automated human-less checkouts, but the driving force behind checkout people is the size of your population.

    I cant think of anything in the last decade that would propel more ppl (as a percentage) to enter either science or engineering. Any factor that might cause it is probably going to be offset by something else, ultimately if everyone started getting into science and engineering, who's gunna be a doctor, a lawyer, a politician, etc etc.

    How that even begins to relate to "less innovation" baffles me even more because 5% of the population is a considerable number of people and innovation itself tends to be sporadic and driven by individuals (and then implemented by large armies of kill robots). Ultimately even 5% is an ever increasing number of people (given population growth).

    I keep looking at the clock wondering if its april 1st, cause I really cant understand how they think "Ideally, the S&E workforce -- it numbers more than 7.6 million workers -- would be expanding as a percentage of the labor force. That would mean U.S. companies are increasing their use of S&E workers." is a remotely valid assumption. Again, given population growth, "That would mean U.S. companies are increasing their use of S&E workers" that is actually happening if your holding at 5%.

    Truly bizarre, its like someone misunderstood the different between what a percentage is and an absolute figure.

  • by MacGyver2210 ( 1053110 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:49PM (#39222063)

    Really? You think guys?

    Then why is it that despite me having tons of technical work experience, a CS degree, and an extensive background in Graphic Design, I can't even land a simple UI designer job that pays enough to repay my student loans and pay rent at the same time? In a big-10 college town with a pretty big tech industry?

    Perhaps it's because instead of R&D and progress, we're focused on blowing up brown people and stealing their oil? Perhaps the same reasons why NASA is woefully underfunded, and yet the DOD has a few billion to throw at missile research?

    FUCK this country. It used to be great, now it's just a slowly-fermenting pile of excrement.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:52PM (#39222107)

    I think it's a little more complex than that. The immigration hysteria has mostly been about illegal immigrants, i.e. people from south of the border with no skills at all besides picking fruit and who don't speak English, not people from Asia with college degrees and tech skills who speak good English.

    Instead, more important factors are that a lot of industry is going to Asia (China and India specifically, plus other countries like Thailand) where these foreign students come from. Where industry goes, so do the engineers, and since these kids come from there anyway, it makes perfect sense they'd want to go back there.

    Put yourself in their shoes: suppose we're in an alternate universe and the USA (presuming that's where you're from) was a 3rd-world country all along, but you were smart and you went to China (a giant world power and leader in technology) to get an education as an engineer. When you're done, perhaps you even work there for a few years to get experience. But China's moving all their manufacturing to the USA because the labor there is so cheap, and the US economy is rising dramatically as a result, while China's is stagnating badly. So do you want to stay in China, where you don't speak the language that well, you're an outsider, and you're living in an alien culture, making very good money but the cost of living is high? Or would you rather move back home, get a job paying half as much, but because of the low cost-of-living this much money lets you live like a king, with a servant or two, and you're in your own culture around your own countrymen you grew up with? I think the answer is obvious. The only reason these people were coming here was because of jobs and money. As the job opportunities got much better back home, they just went back there.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:52PM (#39222111)

    The article says the reasons aren't certain, but my experience doing technical interviews for my employer seems to point to a possible cause -- perceived lack of stable career prospects.

    My background: I work for a medium to large IT company doing systems integration -- code for "troubleshooter, lab rat, make-stuff-work-in-the-face-of-no-documentation person." For a person with the right temperament and skills, it's a very fun job. However, whenever we go out looking for new team members, we get back lots of less-than-qualified people. I'm not talking about qualities like "experts in 4 different operating platforms, genius-level coding skills, etc." -- I'm talking more along the lines of "communicates well, writes clear documentation, and has logical thinking skills." Everything else is trainable in my mind, but if you don't have the engineer/tinkerer/figure-it-out-without-help mindset, you can't do this job well. And oh yes, the pay is decent, and the job is stable if you're good at it and contributing excellent work.

    The only problem is that we're in the NYC area, and so is the finance industry. Anecdotal evidence from my colleagues in finance states that any new college grad who is remotely good at science, math and engineering is going into finance or business. Unfortunately for us, that's probably a rational choice given the current employment climate. When you turn 21 or so and are faced with constant talk of outsourcing/offshoring, companies living with a skeleton crew because they don't want to hire and add to costs on one side, and see in finance/business an easy and very lucrative job market, what would you pick? Go back a couple of years before that...and compare the STEM students working in the lab/studying all the time with the business/psychology/communications majors partying 24/7 and coming out ahead of the game in terms of compensation and ease of work. Then, you really start to see what's wrong.

    One other problem is the outsourcing/offshoring of routine IT work. Some of the jobs that us IT veterans got our start in are way less accessible than before. I started in tech support/help desk, and it was the best training for dealing with angry users and calmly troubleshooting a problem without changing 100 things. Now, those help desk jobs are overseas or at one of three or four huge IT service providers. So, strike two -- uncertain future employment/compensation prospects, lack of entry-level positions to learn the business...what else is stacked against us?

    Personally, I still see a need for *good, competent* engineering talent. Even though most companies and products now are just marketing, flash and repackaging of old technology, someone has to come up with the next neat thing. (Or in my case, someone has to make the 45 neat new things that all got mashed into our software/systems work together.) The problem is that business hs to either start signaling that they really do want and pay for talent, or we won't have replacements for all the people who are slated to retire soon.

  • by Raisey-raison ( 850922 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:02PM (#39222243)

    There is also another reason why more people are not in the S&E field - the pay sucks! It has fallen in real terms since 2000 (and started falling before this recession). If you get a BS in math, chemistry, physics, bio or biochem you are lucky to start on more than 35K. Some lucky few might start on 40K. Even computer and chemical engineers have seen their pay dropping (yes of course they start on a lot more). I know a Chem E who had to take 50K in a high cost city.

    S&E are very hard degrees. I bet if starting salaries were 60K for science and 90K for engineering lots of people would 'suddenly discover' that they loved science. And yes corporate America could afford to pay them. Since 2000 productivity has increased significantly and profits are at record highs.

    When I hear people saying we need to encourage more people to do STEM - I am incredulous. The solution is very simple - raise salaries and people will run to it. [It's also why top MIT PhDs go into Wall Street - why make 90K with a PhD in science when you can make 350K on Wall Street.]

  • Re:Young people. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:12PM (#39222363) Journal

    Interestingly the two examples you picked are more what businesses should be about (i.e. doing business).

    Neither Apple nor SpaceX seem to give a rats ass for quaterly profit figures. They have their gaze set on the medium to long term, rather than parachuting in a CEO to trash the company for a brief increase in profits in order to get huge bonuses before it tanks.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:17PM (#39222427)

    I disagree. For many software fields, there's tons of jobs out there. I have tons of recruiters chasing after me every day for my skills. The problem is that these jobs are very trendy.

    Which is exactly what the GP meant saying that "few real jobs offered by real employers -- it is much easier to use this gun is for hire contractors." So maybe they're staff jobs instead of contractor gigs. But if somebody is hiring you to use a specific tool, don't you wonder what's happening to the people they hired 4 years ago to use some other specific tool that's now uncool? And what becomes of those used-up people?

    It is extremely difficult to spend a full career surfing short-term trends. Fall off the wave for a short while, then how do you get back on? Start a family, how can your spouse have a career if you're job-chasing to a new city every other year? And what about career progression? If your skillset recycles every 4 years, you're no more valuable after 25 years than you were after 4. And then there's ageism. Many people find it tiring to chase after the latest craze eventually. Even if you're an exception, many employers simply won't see you as the picture of what they have in mind for an infusion of new tech to help them stay up-to-date.

  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spike hay ( 534165 ) <> on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:18PM (#39222439) Homepage

    Nah. There's plenty of talented people applying to med school. As an example, medical school applicants who get in through affirmative action have no worse outcomes that other medical students, despite having generally lower grades. Thus, the supply of doctors can be increased without compromising quality.

    The real problem is that the AMA has not put in a new medical school for over 30 years, despite the population doubling in that time. They want to keep the supply low to artificially inflate physician salaries.

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:38PM (#39222733) Journal

    - cost of living in USA is only high because of government destruction of currency, the free market and individual liberties.

    Well, the free market and individual liberties are to do with the government not intefering.

    By destruction of currency, I assume you mean printing money (i.e. deflating the value of existing currenty) rather than destroying wealth (inflating currency).

    So, if destruction of currency is important, then why is the cost of living lower in Zimbabwe (when it underwent rampant, massive money printing) compared to the USA which devalues its currency at a somewhat lower rate?

    that's a common misconception.

    You're referring to "Natural Monopolies". I wasn't.

    Once a company gets large enough (e.g. Intel), they can engage in anticompetitive practices (i.e. bribing companies not to use a competitor's product). Without government intervention, Intel would have destroyed AMD years ago by either cheating or simply buying them outright.

    Once in such a position, they are free to raise prices ot whatever they want. If competiton comes along, they can use their superior size to put them out of business (either by buying them out, or bribing vendors), ensuring that no other company could ever get large enough to challenge them.

    Government intervention stops that happening.

    There are plenty of other examples. For instance, how come Microsoft, Standard Oil, Western Union, AT&T, UATC, etc all formed monopolies. It wasn't because the industries were too heavily regulated, that's for sure.

  • by Wansu ( 846 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:48PM (#39222883)

    Our best schools are teaching people who go work in other countries...

    That's because most of the work is in other countries.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:48PM (#39222885) Homepage Journal

    why is the cost of living lower in Zimbabwe

    - the cost of living at what level, measured in what? Cost of living in Zimbabwe is impossible in Zimbabwe dollars, but you can live if you have money - gold or maybe other currencies.

    Once a company gets large enough (e.g. Intel), they can engage in anticompetitive practices (i.e. bribing companies not to use a competitor's product).

    - that's just normal business.

    Without government intervention, Intel would have destroyed AMD years ago by either cheating or simply buying them outright.

    - so what? Apparently AMD is doing just fine destroying itself all on its own. It's not a viable company.

    But it doesn't matter. Intel is not a monopoly unless it gets government help and support, but it is a company that has a very good brand at giving people the best product at the best price. If the price or product are unsatisfactory and there is space in the market for profits building better products at maybe better prices, then without gov't intervention a company would emerge building that product, it's happens all the time.

    Government intervention stops that happening.

    - you are mistaken. Gov't intervention destroys viability of some companies to promote unviable businesses of their friends. Kodak was a company that was attacked by gov't in the nineties. [] Were they not attacked and were they able to restructure at that time, they possibly could have still continued their existence.

    In 1979 GM was bailed out. Just a few years back it was bailed out again, and Obama says: here is a company that would have failed if it wasn't for gov't.

    Well, that company DID fail, the bond holders got crashed by the government - that's the real end of the company. Companies only exist to provide their shareholders with profit on their investment, not for any other reason, not to hire people - to make money for investors.

    That company DID fail, but bond holders had their property CONFISCATED, so the normal contract laws DO NOT APPLY ANYMORE IN USA.

    And people are WONDERING why there is no manufacturing business in USA? What are you all, blind?

  • by s73v3r ( 963317 ) <> on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:50PM (#39222919)

    Employers are the ones in shackles

    That is a fat load of bullshit, just like everything else you've said in this thread. Employers are the ones with power, which is why you've seen wages stagnate and drop in the last 30 years.

    If it were employees, who were in shackles, there would have been an outflow in that category.

    Or it could be that even with employees in shackles, its still cheaper to move production to a country where the government does exactly what you want it to do: Not give a shit about anything but helping business make money.

  • by loneDreamer ( 1502073 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:59PM (#39223027)
    I agree. It's just that we have seen already the consequences a society dominated by lawyers and bankers.

    Interestingly enough it seems to me that a society dominated by sciences tends to fare much better, though I have no numbers to prove it. For me, its kind of the difference between "builders" and "exploiters"...
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @03:19PM (#39223299)

    That is such a shame. We should be doing everything we can to make it simple for the rest of the world's best and brightest to live here. If you have a certain resume and pass some simple financial tests, your work visa should be nearly automatic.

  • by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @03:26PM (#39223405)
    Sounds like you've had some bad managers. Maybe instead of off-shoring yours, you should just get better ones.
  • by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:12PM (#39224185)

    Can't give your kid a chemistry set, those don't exist. Can't buy chemicals, you might be making a bomb.

    There are plenty of chemistry sets, and I can buy all the chemicals I'd be willing to give to a child.

    For several years (after 9/11) you couldn't buy a model rocket engine, 'cause of course you could use it for terrorism somehow.

    Citation? I was involved in a project in 2002 that involved model rockets. Had no problem buying the required materials

    Until recently you couldn't build a UAV. Well, you could build it, but flying it was illegal.

    I've been involved in UAV research for a few years. Another baseless claim. You need the proper permits depending on how and where you want to fly, but other than that I've flown quadrocopters in my back yard and at the park.

    Students are arrested if they bring electronics projects to school (Can't find the link, remember reading about this).

    Of course you can't, because it was probably a one off isolated incident that was most likely anecdotal. Science and engeering fairs like ISEF are stronger than ever, and many projects involve electronics.

    Having canning jars and a bag of fertilizer in your car can get you arrested for having bomb-making materials.

    Citation? This certainly doesn't happen every day. Don't see how this supports the position that we've created a hostile environment for children anyway.

    Taking apart a smoke detector (and using it to demonstrate alpha radiation) is a "grievous offense" (actual NRC term) and can get you raided and have *all* your lab equipment taken away.


    Your hackerspace will be shut down [] instead of "given 30 days for compliance" as would be the case for a company.

    MakeIt Labs was operating without a certificate to occupy, which they couldn't obtain because they didn't have exit signs, emergency lighting, metal tops for tables with power tools, and the ventilation was insufficient. Sounds like a death trap that needed to get shut down immediately.

  • by Beyond_GoodandEvil ( 769135 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @04:23PM (#39224355) Homepage
    This is true of most jobs, and STEM aren't the worst off. Talk to someone trying to break into journalism, or acting, or anything else that you would associate with unpaid internships. Getting your first job in almost any professional field is difficult, unless there is a serious shortage of people in that field.
    I missed where Hollywood execs showed up in front of Congress and said there wasn't enough actors or actresses so we need to import a bunch from other countries, or the world complaining that we let all of our good actors and journalists study here and then return to their home countries. B/c that what those who go into STEM jobs see.

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