News: News Archives
"Affirmative Opportunity" Needed
To Fill Science and Technology Gap
A large percentage of the science and technology workforce is preparing to retire. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is preparing for a workforce shortage of 45 percent. NASA's science and engineering staff could retire now.
"Most federal agencies are facing a similar challenge. The aging cohort is not being replaced in adequate numbers," Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic University (RPI) and president-elect of AAAS, said. "And universities are challenged by declining student interest in engineering and the physical sciences." The continued vitality of our society and the economy is only as strong as our pool of science and engineering talent. The past 15 years has seen a steady decline in the supply of scientists and engineers and in the federal investment of basic scientific research.
As when faced with any shortage, Jackson said, we must look to untapped resources to fill this gap. Jackson refers to these readily available resources as "affirmative opportunity." Young women and minority youth are underrepresented in the sciences, engineering, and technology. The shortage of technological workers could be eliminated entirely if women and minorities were represented in these fields in parity with their percentages in the total workforce population.
"In the year 2015, 2.6 million new undergraduates will enroll in American schools. The underrepresented new majority will represent 2 million students," Jackson stated.
Jackson remarked that most scientific and technological professionals are overwhelmingly white and male and without disabilities. White males comprise 42 percent of today's civilian workforce, but make up 68 percent of the science and engineering workforce. White women make up 35 percent of the workforce and only 15 percent of the science and engineering workforce. Blacks and Hispanics comprise about 10 percent of the workforce, but only 3 percent of the science and engineering workforce.
Data compiled by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) indicate that the increase in engineering baccalaureate degrees among minority students in the year 2000 was the smallest in decades. And although a record number of Latinos graduated in 2000, that number is still very small for the fastest-growing segment of the population. Finally, for the third year in a row, there was a decline in the number of African-American men earning degrees.
Jackson asserts that the future will depend on closing the talent gaps. The fight cannot begin at the college classroom door, but in middle school and junior high. Programs need to be put in place to encourage young women, minority students and students with disabilities to study the sciences.
The U.S. continues to be the top global economy, because it is drawing upon investments made years ago to encourage the study and pursuit of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Unless we continue to make that investment, Jackson says, the U.S. will not have the talent to enable us to be globally competitive in the future.
17 April 2003