Is There Really a Science and Engineering Gap?

By Michael Feldman

May 29, 2008

While researching last week’s blog on the H-1B topic, I came across an interesting 2007 report from the Urban Institute that challenges the conventional wisdom about the decline of U.S. science/engineering education and the technology workforce. The report, titled “Into the Eye of the Storm: Assessing the Evidence on Science and Engineering Education, Quality, and Workforce Demand,” begins thusly:

Several high-level committees have concluded that current domestic and global trends are threatening America’s global science and engineering (S&E) preeminence. Of the challenges discussed, few are thought to be as serious as the purported decline in the supply of high quality students from the beginning to the end of the S&E pipeline — a decline brought about by declining emphasis on math and science education, coupled with a supposed declining interest among domestic students in S&E careers. However, our review of the data fails to find support for those presumptions. Rather, the available data indicate increases in the absolute numbers of secondary school graduates and increases in their math and science performance levels. Domestic and international trends suggest that U.S. schools show steady improvement in math and science, the U.S. is not at any particular disadvantage compared with most nations, and the supply of S&E-qualified graduates is large and ranks among the best internationally. Further, the number of undergraduates completing S&E studies has grown, and the number of S&E graduates remains high by historical standards.

The report points out the overall number of science and engineering degrees is more than adequate for domestic workforce demand, noting about a 3-to-1 ratio of graduates-to-jobs from 1985-2000. Over that period, S&E jobs were added at a fairly steady clip of 150,000 per year. While local labor shortages may occur in specific domains, the report could not find any general shortage of qualified graduates for technology jobs.

The authors, B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University and Hal Salzman of the The Urban Institute, argue that industry expectations of the domestic labor market may be unrealistic. In many cases, employers are demanding technology workers with high levels of expertise or specific technical skills. At the same time, science and engineering firms complain that schools fail to provide students with the “soft skills” needed in today’s companies. If you glance at a typical technology job posting, you’ll get the idea. The authors say they conducted interviews with current managers and engineers who believe that there is “little future in entry-level engineering jobs in many industries, and IT in particular.”

To compound the problem, large IT companies have been sending mixed messages. Company spokesmen like Intel Chairman Craig Barrett and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates give lip service to renewed public investment in science and engineering education, while their companies are busy importing as many workers as they can via the H-1B visa program and investing heavily overseas in low-cost geographies like India and China.

The report notes that this is creating a hostile environment for would-be tech workers, who are simply reacting to a labor market that is being shaped by the behavior of companies, large and small. I’d even go further and suggest that the IT industry is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by demanding education and skills at wages that are unpalatable to the domestic workforce. And while a CEO or chairman of the board may entertain the patriotic notion of maintaining U.S. leadership in science and technology, the company’s investors have other priorities.

The report also challenges the unexamined assumptions that the U.S. is best served by being number one in science and math. “This confuses means and ends,” say the authors. They argue that a narrow focus on high test scores is a weak foundation upon which to develop a competitive workforce that drives innovation. And besides, there is little evidence that our economic rivals — like China and India — are outcompeting us based on superior educational achievement. Singapore is an example of a successful competitor that is “trying to emulate U.S. innovation and creativity and de-emphasize strict math and science test performance.”

The authors offer no specific course of action, but believe that “evidence-based policy” is the way to go. Labor markets need to be studied in more detail to determine future demands. A long-term investment in domestic human resources is probably needed, since the short-term fix of importing a lot of foreign tech workers into the country is likely to have unintended consequences.

The Urban Institute paper is certainly at odds with the some of the views expressed in the better-known “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report from 2005, which recommended an aggressive expansion of science/math education and the associated workforce. Suggestions included offering 10,000 four-year scholarships for K-12 science and math teachers; upgrading the skills of 250,000 current teachers; enlarging the pipeline of science, engineering and math students entering college; and giving preferential treatment to immigrants and visa holders with technology skills. It should be noted that these recommendations were part of a larger set of initiatives that would also expand publicly-funded science and technology research.

Fans of the Gathering Storm — and the 2007 sequel, “Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth” — should take a look at the Eye of the Storm report, if only to expose themselves to a contrary view of the topic. The real value of these studies though lies in the realization that the creation of technical innovation is not formulaic and requires a nuanced approach by industry and policymakers. The sobering reality is that the pace and scope of technology and globalization is outstripping our ability to study their effects.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Supercomputers Streamline Prediction of Dangerous Arrhythmia

June 2, 2020

Heart arrhythmia can prove deadly, contributing to the hundreds of thousands of deaths from cardiac arrest in the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, many of those arrhythmia are induced as side effects from various medicati Read more…

By Staff report

Indiana University to Deploy Jetstream 2 Cloud with AMD, Nvidia Technology

June 2, 2020

Indiana University has been awarded a $10 million NSF grant to build ‘Jetstream 2,’ a cloud computing system that will provide 8 aggregate petaflops of computing capability in support of data analysis and AI workload Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been instrumental to AMD’s datacenter market resurgence. Nanomet Read more…

By Doug Black

Supercomputer-Powered Protein Simulations Approach Lab Accuracy

June 1, 2020

Protein simulations have dominated the supercomputing conversation of late as supercomputers around the world race to simulate the viral proteins of COVID-19 as accurately as possible and simulate potential bindings in t Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC Career Notes: June 2020 Edition

June 1, 2020

In this monthly feature, we'll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it's a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

AWS Solution Channel

Computational Fluid Dynamics on AWS

Over the past 30 years Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has grown to become a key part of many engineering design processes. From aircraft design to modelling the blood flow in our bodies, the ability to understand the behaviour of fluids has enabled countless innovations and improved the time to market for many products. Read more…

Supercomputer Modeling Shows How COVID-19 Spreads Through Populations

May 30, 2020

As many states begin to loosen the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that have forced most Americans inside for the past two months, researchers are poring over the data, looking for signs of the dreaded second peak of t Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Indiana University to Deploy Jetstream 2 Cloud with AMD, Nvidia Technology

June 2, 2020

Indiana University has been awarded a $10 million NSF grant to build ‘Jetstream 2,’ a cloud computing system that will provide 8 aggregate petaflops of comp Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

COVID-19 HPC Consortium Expands to Europe, Reports on Research Projects

May 28, 2020

The COVID-19 HPC Consortium, a public-private effort delivering free access to HPC processing for scientists pursuing coronavirus research – some utilizing AI Read more…

By Doug Black

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Boosts Deep Learning Accuracy on Memristive Chips

May 27, 2020

IBM researchers have taken another step towards making in-memory computing based on phase change (PCM) memory devices a reality. Papers in Nature and Frontiers Read more…

By John Russell

Hats Over Hearts: Remembering Rich Brueckner

May 26, 2020

HPCwire and all of the Tabor Communications family are saddened by last week’s passing of Rich Brueckner. He was the ever-optimistic man in the Red Hat presiding over the InsideHPC media portfolio for the past decade and a constant presence at HPC’s most important events. Read more…

Nvidia Q1 Earnings Top Expectations, Datacenter Revenue Breaks $1B

May 22, 2020

Nvidia’s seemingly endless roll continued in the first quarter with the company announcing blockbuster earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations. Nvidia Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft’s Massive AI Supercomputer on Azure: 285k CPU Cores, 10k GPUs

May 20, 2020

Microsoft has unveiled a supercomputing monster – among the world’s five most powerful, according to the company – aimed at what is known in scientific an Read more…

By Doug Black

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

Contributors

Tech Conferences Are Being Canceled Due to Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Several conferences scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and the Strata Data + AI conference, have Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Exascale Watch: El Capitan Will Use AMD CPUs & GPUs to Reach 2 Exaflops

March 4, 2020

HPE and its collaborators reported today that El Capitan, the forthcoming exascale supercomputer to be sited at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and serve Read more…

By John Russell

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray to Provide NOAA with Two AMD-Powered Supercomputers

February 24, 2020

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced plans for a major refresh of its operational weather forecasting supercomputers, part of a 10-year, $505.2 million program, which will secure two HPE-Cray systems for NOAA’s National Weather Service to be fielded later this year and put into production in early 2022. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

Fujitsu A64FX Supercomputer to Be Deployed at Nagoya University This Summer

February 3, 2020

Japanese tech giant Fujitsu announced today that it will supply Nagoya University Information Technology Center with the first commercial supercomputer powered Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This