Differing Views: Where Do You Stand?

October 2013

Differing Views: Where Do You Stand?

Is there a science and engineering workforce shortage? The diversity of perspectives is highlighted in a Congressional Research Service report released in May. The report acknowledges that policymakers, business leaders, educators, economists, and technical professionals come to the table with differing views on the workforce and solutions to any perceived problems. The report defines the following views on the state of the science and engineering workforce:

There is a shortage
There is a shortage (or impending shortage) of scientists and engineers or workers with STEM degrees that could result in the loss of U.S. scientific, engineering, technological, and industrial leadership. This may have dire consequences for economic growth, job creation, standard of living, and national security.

There isn't a shortage
Holders of this view believe that assertions of a broad shortage of scientists and engineers are not supported by the data when considering factors such as employment growth, wage growth, and unemployment rates.

More scientists and engineers are needed regardless of the existence of a shortage
No matter if demand for engineering and science talent currently [exceeds] supply, growing the talent pool will increase innovation, economic performance, and job creation in the U.S. Even if there is not a shortage of talent, jobs in nonscience and engineering occupations are demanding a higher level of STEM knowledge. In addition, federal policies, programs, and investments have contributed to the development of the U.S. science and engineering workforce.

Government interventions in the science and engineering labor market to address perceived shortages may introduce inefficiencies
Federal government initiatives and programs to increase the number of scientists and engineers by incentivizing students to pursue STEM degrees and increasing immigration quotas may result in less effective operation of the labor market. Examples of this include having too many students with degrees that don't match the availability of jobs or lower salaries for graduates.

Workforce projections are unreliable for predicting shortages
Long-term projections for science and engineering occupations are unreliable. Relying on these projections could possibly result in the preparation of too many or too few students with science and engineering degrees or in mismatches between the students' education and needs of the job market. What's making these predictions so difficult? There is a mix of industrial output or unemployment because of technological or market changes. Additional factors include retirement behavior; the availability of foreign labor sources; labor market demographics; and government policies.

How many engineers do we need? Send your views to pemagazine@nspe.org.