NSB Issues Warning Call on U.S. STEM Worker Development

By John Russell

February 5, 2018

Last week the National Science Board issued a companion policy statement – Our Nation’s Future Competitiveness Relies on Building a Stem-capable U.S. Workforce – meant to reinforce worrisome data scattered throughout the 2018 National Science & Engineering Indicators report released in mid-January.

“The U.S. can no longer rely on a distinct and relatively small “STEM workforce.” Instead, we need a STEM-capable U.S. workforce that leverages the hard work, creativity, and ingenuity of women and men of all ages, all education levels, and all backgrounds. Our Nation’s Future Competitiveness Relies on Building a Stem-capable U.S. Workforce,” argues the NSB.

The policy statement is a manifesto around a topic that has resonated in the HPC community; however it sometimes seems the community has grown “tone-deaf” because such calls have become perennial and progress seems spare. NSB noted this too:

“Numerous entities, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), have undertaken a myriad of initiatives spanning decades aimed at leveraging the talents of all segments of our population, especially groups historically underrepresented in STEM. Yet, in spite of some progress, crippling disparities in STEM education remain…”

The NSB offers the following rather broad ideas, steering clear of specifics:

“Considering the increasing demands placed on students, workers, businesses, and government budgets, institutions must partner to build the U.S. workforce of the future. These joint efforts are necessary in order to prosper in an increasingly globally competitive knowledge- and technology-intensive world.

  • Governments at all levels should empower all segments of our population through investments in formal and informal education and workforce development throughout an individual’s life-span. This includes redoubling our commitment to training the next generation of scientists and engineers through sustained and predictable Federal investments in graduate education and basic research.
  • Businesses should invest in workplace learning programs–such as apprenticeships and internships–that utilize local talent. By leveraging partnerships between academic institutions and industry, such as those catalyzed by NSF’s Advanced Technological Education Program (ATE), businesses will be less likely to face a workforce “skills gap.”
  • Governments and businesses should expand their investments in community and technical colleges, which continue to provide individuals with on-ramps into skilled technical careers as well as opportunities for skill renewal and development for workers at all education levels throughout their careers.
  • To accelerate progress on diversifying the STEM-capableS. workforce, the Nation should continue to invest in underrepresented segments of the population and leverage Minority Serving Institutions to this end.
  • Collectively, we must proceed with urgency and purpose to ensure that this Nation and all our people are ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.”

The lack of diversity and effective recruitment from underserved population segments is a point of emphasis in the policy statement. Another of the biggest worries called out in the statement is the decline in international graduate level STEM students and changing attitudes towards remaining in the U.S.

“While the U.S. remains the top designations on for internationally mobile students, its share of these students declined from 25% in 2000 to 19% in 2015 as other countries increasingly compete for them…Our Nation’s ability to attract students from around the world is important, but our competitive advantage in this area is fully realized when these individuals stay to work in the United States post-graduation.

“The overall “stay rates” for foreign-born non-citizens who received a Ph.D. from U.S. institutions have generally trended upwards since the turn of the century, reaching 70% for both the 5-year and 10-year stay rates in 2015.31 However, the percentage of new STEM doctorates from China and India—the two top countries of origin—with definite plans to stay in the U.S. has declined over the past decade (from 59% to 49% for China and 62% to 51% for India). As other nations build their innovation capacity through investments in R&D and higher education, we must actively find ways to attract and retain foreign talent and fully capitalize on our own citizens.”

Link to the NSB companion policy statement: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=244391&WT.mc_id=USNSF_62&WT.mc_ev=click

HPCwire article on the full 2018 S&E Indicators Report: U.S. Leads but China Gains in NSF 2018 S&E Indicators Report

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