The 'silent crisis' in science and technology recruiting

There aren't enough workers in the pipeline to fill job vacancies, report finds.

Late last month, the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council released a report that recommended the Defense Department overhaul its recruiting and hiring practices in order to effectively compete for critical workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

While that report put more emphasis on the quality of STEM candidates, a new report released Tuesday by the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council’s Institute for Innovation focuses on the challenges federal agencies and industry face on the front end -- the quantity of STEM candidates.

While scientific innovation produces roughly half of all U.S. economic growth, the educational pipeline necessary to fill STEM jobs and make that economic growth possible is not readily up to task, the report noted. For example, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics based on an international assessment of 15-year-olds in 70 countries. Inadequate early education is the start to this negative trend, as many students never make it into the STEM pipeline.

In addition, jobs in STEM fields are increasing three times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy, yet American students are not entering these fields in sufficient numbers. That means that by 2018, the nation faces a projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers, a problem that is compounded by the large number of Baby Boomer retirements, ACT-IAC found.

Several STEM initiatives, such as the Committee on STEM Education, already exist, but most of the funding for these programs is targeted toward the needs of specific agencies, the report noted. Of the $3.4 billion spent on STEM education, only $312 million is targeted toward improving teacher effectiveness, and only $396 million invests in K-12 education.

The report offers three recommendations for addressing the shortage of STEM candidates:

  1. Focus federal leadership on STEM education activities by establishing a national challenge for STEM that includes increased public awareness campaigns, improved coordination efforts, innovative grant and tax incentive programs, and calls more urgency to the STEM problem.
  2. Create a permanent STEM education committee that focuses on coordinating all of the various STEM initiatives and establishing clear methods for measuring the outcomes of federal STEM initiatives.
  3. Provide universal access to a broadband digital infrastructure and provide the tools, training and devices to improve digital literacy.

“The workforce shortage in the areas of [STEM] is a silent national crisis. ‘Silent’ because it has not received the national focus it deserves,” the report states. “Many -- if not most -- Americans think of the United States as a leader in STEM education and jobs, but this is not true. We are quietly slipping further and further behind because we have not developed a culture that prioritizes STEM.”

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