Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
Businesses United States Science

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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Science and Engineering Workforce Has Stalled In the US

Comments Filter:
  • the good and the bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eagle1361 ( 2557464 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:26PM (#39221735)
    As a young engineer myself, the good part of the story is that there will be more promotion possibilities because the older workers are retiring. The bad part is that the reason for the decline is the loss of job security and pay that barely pays the school loans and isn't matching inflation most times makes S&E a somewhat risky career path.
  • Funny responses (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mrand ( 147739 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:28PM (#39221759)

    It's funny reading all the responses saying "It's obvious"... and then each response gives a different cause.

    If I knew then what I know now, I would probably not have gone into electrical engineering out of fear of offshoring. Thus far it hasn't completed killed engineering in the USA, but it has certainly made a big dent. But I don't know that the majority of young engineers know to even fear that...


  • by mx+b ( 2078162 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:42PM (#39221929)

    I typically get the feeling the young are stuck between a rock and a hard place for STEM careers. On the one hand we are told over and over that these are important jobs. But then when you go to apply for them, you are told you are too young and need more experience and can't hire you. "Well, can you train me?" "No, you just have to get experience, or go back to school." So you go back to school, and they tell you "Well we don't do job training, our focus is how to *think* and learn the principles needed. Go get a job if you want experience." And so you end up in a bizarre catch-22 where everyone expects you to know everything at a young age, but no one is willing to provide the training you need to get there. It's as if they think scientists grow on trees and you just wait for them to ripen and apply for a job, with their analytical skills and knowledge fully formed. Maybe that was possible in some sense during the baby boom, when it was also more patriotic to go into a STEM field to fight the commies, but today you have to work for it and provide incentives. There are less people for each job, not more.

    Either these are important jobs employers need to support more (with leniency on the expectations of youth, pair them up with an older mentor, on-job training, etc), or they aren't. Suck it up and pay for it instead of whining. But I am tired of the limbo these fields leave many younger people floating in.

  • by trongey ( 21550 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:43PM (#39221945) Homepage

    It has nothing to do with the number of people entering these fields. It's the number of jobs that companies are removing from these fields. They cut staff and tell those remaining that they have to work another 20hrs/wk to cover the workload.

  • by Shag ( 3737 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:46PM (#39222001)

    My town is home to the base facilities for eight of the Mauna Kea Observatories [], and we're looking at the Thirty Meter Telescope [] in the near future as well. Needless to say, there are pretty much always job openings [] for engineers, technicians, and PhDs. The catch? We're on an island, and some people get tired of that.

    So Science Education/Public Outreach (SE/PO) is a part of life here. Pushing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) as good ways to make a better-than-average living is a part of life here. The scientists take over the local mall one day every spring. In late January, we take over the University for a "science day" in honor of Space Shuttle Challenger astronaut Ellison Onizuka, for kids in grades 3-8, and NASA sends an astronaut each year. And around late February or early March, there's Journey Through The Universe [].

    I'm actually about to head to a nearby school to spend an hour talking about science careers to a classroom of 7th-graders, so I'm getting a real kick out of this article showing up right now. The other 9 classes I'm visiting over next Monday, Tuesday and Thursday are a bit younger - grades 1-3. The idea, though, is that from Kindergarten on, kids here are meeting real live people who work in science at observatories or other "famous science places" every year and are being encouraged to stay in school, take classes about STEM, look at college majors in STEM, and become qualified for those good jobs, so that we can hire people who are from here and would love to stay here.

    Last year, I was told about one of the first success stories - a guy who was in 7th grade when they started visiting classes, and as a result of what he heard over the years, had picked a STEM major at the local university, and was now going to accompany a scientist to classes as a "community ambassador" sort of person.

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

    by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:47PM (#39222011) Homepage Journal

    Unfortunately you're right, but it's really an indictment of those at the very top, because this situation is unsustainable.

    First US business' HQ moved the manufacturing overseas, saving a bunch of cost.
    Next US business' HQ moved the development overseas, saving a bunch of cost.
    More recently US business' HQ has been moving research overseas, again presumably saving a bunch of cost.

    Every step of the way, some of those cost savings have gone to the customer and some to US business' HQ. Even as the pay scale of remaining US staff has been flat since 2000, US business' HQ pay scale has been on something approaching 10% CGR.

    At this point there's a lot of money to be saved buy simply ditching US business HQ, moving HQ overseas where all of the work, development, and research are. Plus for some time now, US business' HQ has been largely a one-trick pony, cutting costs by moving jobs overseas. Not a lot of innovation there, not much value-add.

    There are a few notable exceptions of course, Steve Jobs having been one, no matter what kind of prick he might have been, personally. I believe Elon Musk is another, but that also might be because he's making one of my pet wishes (affordable access to space) real.

  • Complicated. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MYakus ( 1625537 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:47PM (#39222015)

    We are educating kids to be users of technology, but not developers or inventors. Every time I've taken a computer or a disk drive or other electronics apart for a demonstration to the Scouts or just kids, they are always amazed. They are never taught beyond a mouse click. A lot of kids coming out of college are no better these days. Another problem is that in our zeal to bring girls into higher education, we are losing boys - those who would be most interested in engineering ( see Carpe Diem website archives for all the graphs and tables on subject preferences, Prof J does a great job of laying that argument out from high school on ).

  • There is no problem (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:49PM (#39222045)

    This is an excuse to open the doors to more immigration to bring in cheap technical labour.

    There is no technical shortage. Just a shortage of highly-skilled qualified people willing to work for minimal wages.

    I saw recently an article in one of the local newspapers that indicated that 4,000 engineering graduates were being produced per year in Canada, 10,000 engineers per year were being brought in via immigration and only 1,000 new engineering jobs created per year, thus 13,000 engineers per year are unhappy and either unemployed or employed/under-employed in jobs outside of the field.

    Add in government grants that pay 50% of the salary for non-citizen visible minority engineers, why would anybody hire a Canadian educated engineer except for when they come straight out of school?

    The constant mantra of the sky is falling because we have no engineers is an old story and is used to bring in more engineers via immigration and thus deflate the average income for engineers. The problem is that governments keep on falling for this ruse.

    The basic issue is a disrespect for the skills of engineers and desire to turn them into a disposable cog in a company to maximize short-term profits.

    I know dozens of highly qualified engineers with 20+ years of experience that are underemployed, or unemployed or working in other fields because they cannot even get an interview nevermind a job.

    The media & governments fall for this ruse over and over.

    My two-cents

  • by w_dragon ( 1802458 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:49PM (#39222061)
    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.
  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:52PM (#39222103) Homepage Journal

    For my job, I'm doing something unique in the world. When I started on this particular path, just over 10 years ago, most of the players in this particular field said that they were going to do it. I've done it, as far as I can tell, everyone else has dropped back to Plan B and are working that way.

    There were several of us gathered a month or two back, one of them is a small businessman, another used to work for the same employer as me, and was laid off years ago. The small businessman was telling me that I should express to my employer how unique and valuable my work is, and I should be receiving better compensation.

    The guy who used to work for the same employer said simply, "They don't care." I agreed.

  • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @01:59PM (#39222217)
    ...of the fall of Rome. You better watch out though because the dying body of this beast is still going to kick and flail for another 20-50 years. You don't want to be in the way.
  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Brannoncyll ( 894648 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:06PM (#39222287)

    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.

    Fortunately not everyone is motivated by money, or else there would be nobody sticking around with a science or engineering career. If you want my 2 cents, I believe the issue is that the current American culture celebrates the wealthy and looks down upon the educated, unless they are using that education to gain wealth. Its hardly surprising then that in my group (theoretical physics at a big Ivy league university) something like 90% of the PhD students are non-Americans, and of the few American PhD students I have known, most have left physics to work in the finance sector after completing their studies.

  • Re:Young people. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by decsnake ( 6658 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:15PM (#39222401) Homepage
    Apple moved ALL of its manufacturing from the US to China under Steve Jobs leadership. They employ roughly 40,000 people in the US and 700,000 contractors in China.
  • by loneDreamer ( 1502073 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:18PM (#39222443)

    prioritize citizens over internationals for university slots

    I'm sure the slots are there, but it seems US People are not. I'm studying at a top-level CS department in the US, my particular master program has 23 people: 18 Chinese, 3 Indian, 2 American (one from Mexico and myself, from Chile - and yes, we are from America too). Not a single guy from the US. I see the same in most programs (the Chinese/Indian proportion varies). And the guy running the program would love to have a more balanced set of students, it's just that there seem to be not enough candidates or not good enough.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:25PM (#39222557) Homepage Journal

    I don't follow. Offshoring exploits differences in the cost of living and is presumably an example of where the government isn't doing anything, since they don't prevent it.

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

    Monopolies happen every so often without any government intervention. When they do, the only thing stopping them doing as they please is, in fact, government intervention.

    - that's a common misconception. []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:33PM (#39222657)

    I was recently in a room with 10 Chinese students, 3 Americans, and 1 Japanese Professor.

    He asked the Chinese students if they were going to stay in America or go back to China. After they all said they were going to go back to China he goes on to talk about how 15 years ago everyone would have stayed in America but times are changing. He spoke along the lines of exactly what is in this post.

    The EE department at my school is about 95% foreign and ~60% are from China.

    I see this is as one of the biggest problems our country faces going forward. Our best schools are teaching people who go work in other countries...

  • Not true (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:36PM (#39222709)

    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.

    Contractors are used with great success appropriately. My father contracted out to a number of contractors the company could never justify having full-time, to do specialist work, which is the whole point. For example - a guy who knew CCDs inside and out. Another specialized in PCB layout, generating boards my father (an EE for decades, no stranger to PCB layout) described as "art."

    All these guys were well compensated for their work and in some cases had more work than they could handle. So, if you're a programmer - find something that you think has a market which interests you and you're highly qualified in, hone your skills, and market yourself. You will never be able to be a contractor as a Java programmer - you're a total commodity.

    If you want to talk about inappropriate use of contractors...well, the IRS has been cracking down on companies that use contractor status to avoid payroll taxes and benefits. My state has been, too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:40PM (#39222759)

    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.


    I was one of the last few people who managed to come from GERMANY to Sillicon Valley on a H1B visa back in the 90es.
    I would say that i speak the language here pretty fluently, and have several graduate degrees. I admit, i DO pick fruit in my backyard, but only recreationally.

    Still, my Greencard process took a total of 7 years (filed right before 9/11, YAY!)

    Since then, I have worked with several high tech, talented people, and - my colleagues from Germany largely don't want to move to the US of A anymore, and are even annoyed by many of the things they undergo to come here for business trips.
    I have also worked with a team from Brazil, and wanted to hire their top engineer (MS/CS, fluent english, on track to senior management).
    I tried to convince him to move to the Valley, and work for a billion dollar company.
    Even with the resources of a huge company, it was impossible to get a timely visa for him, and after "pending" in the queue for 10 months, his wife pulled the plug and decided she doesnt want to come and live here anyways, since she (who is a MD in Brazil) couldnt practice here, and she also didnt want to subject her children to american school system.

    YAY, way to go. each one of my friends who has been strung along and finally gave up would have held down a top paying job here in the high tech industry, and payed taxes and created jobs.

    YES, foreigners CREATE jobs in the USA, they don't take them away.

    Dont believe me - well, look at some russian immigrant who founded a small company called Google.
    Or this Vinod guy, who is the #1 VC, Khosla Ventures who co-founded SUN (together with Bill Joy a German, and

    So, yes - i DO believe that the US immigration policy has thrown out the baby WITH the bath water.

    Overall, there USED to come more highly talented people INTO the US.
    Those were the ones who actually FOLLOWED the laws, which were now tightened up unreasonably.

    The others, who come here illegally - well, do you REALLY think the immigration laws affect them? seriously?
    There's a reason they are called ILLEGAL.

  • by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:40PM (#39222761)

    It's now almost impossible to transfer good workers from abroad into the US. The criteria have changed so much that our company has basically stopped doing that except for higher level managers. It used to cost about $70k-$100k to get an Engineer into the US on a work visa but the cost and time involved has ballooned so much that it's no longer considered cost efficient by my employer. I saw a memo to that extent a few years ago.

  • by sethstorm ( 512897 ) on Friday March 02, 2012 @02:45PM (#39222839) Homepage

    Nothing says the US can use its top-of-the-world position to bring it back to a more manageable US/UK/Western EU/Australia alliance.

    Why should globalization mean that the developed world guts itself, sending the bits that made the country developed to some hellhole?

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle