RL34539 - The U.S. Science and Technology Workforce
3-Mar-2009; Deborah D. Stine and Christine M. Matthews; 15 p.
Update: Previous Editions:
June 20, 2008
Abstract: In the 21st century, global competition and rapid advances in science and technology will challenge the scientific and technical proficiency of the U.S. workforce. The 110th Congress is currently discussing policy actions that could enhance the nation’s science and technology (S&T) workforce — deemed by some as essential to both meet U.S. workforce demands as well as to generate the new ideas that lead to improved and new industries that create jobs.
As in the past, there are those who question whether the quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education received by all Americans at the pre-college level is of sufficient quality that workers are available to satisfy current and future workforce needs. In addition, the number of Americans pursuing post-secondary STEM degrees is considered to be low relative to students in countries considered to be U.S. competitors. Many perspectives exist, however, on the supply and demand of scientists and engineers. Some question the fundamental premise that any action is necessary at all regarding U.S. competitiveness. They question whether or not the S&T workforce and STEM education are problems at all.
The 110th Congress passed the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69) to address concerns regarding the S&T workforce and STEM education, and is currently debating funding for the programs authorized within it. Additional discussions in the 110th Congress have focused on three issues: demographic trends and the future S&T talent pool, the current S&T workforce and changing workforce needs, and the influence of foreign S&T students and workers on the U.S. S&T workforce.
In response to the issue of demographic trends and the future S&T talent pool, some policymakers propose taking actions to increase the number of Americans interested in the S&T workforce. These policies are motivated by demographic trends that indicate the pool of future workers will be far more diverse than the current STEM workforce. Proposed policies would take actions to enhance the quality of STEM education these Americans receive so they are able to consider S&T careers, and to recruit them into the S&T workforce.
On the issue of the current S&T workforce and changing workforce needs, the goal of proposed policies is to reinvigorate and retrain Americans currently trained in science and engineering who voluntarily or involuntarily are no longer part of the current STEM workforce. The challenge in this situation is that science and engineering are constantly changing, both in terms of workforce needs as well as the skills the STEM workforce needs to obtain to be marketable relative to demand.
Another policy before the 110th Congress is increasing the ability of the United States to draw upon foreign talent to meet the nation’s S&T workforce needs. These discussions focus on immigration policy, primarily increasing the ability of foreign STEM students currently in U.S. universities to more easily obtain permanent admission, and increasing the number of temporary worker visas available so more talent from abroad can be recruited to the United States.