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Approved December 13, 2000

EHR Task Force on National Workforce Policies for Science and Engineering



I. Charge to the Task Force: Need for a Conceptual Framework

The National Workforce Policies Task Force (NWP) was "established to assess long-term national workforce trends and needs in science and engineering and their relationship to existing Federal policies" (NSB 00-192). The Task Force was asked to consider four issues:

NWP seeks a framework that articulates national needs in formulating strategies for enhancing the education, training, and continuous development of our workers in the years to come. As our population changes in composition and age, sex, race/ethnicity, and immigration will become bigger policy levers, as well as key analytical categories.

National policies will differentially affect the various segments of the technology-based workforce. A workforce that draws talent from a successful "profile" of education and experience may resist profiles that appear to be atypical. In the aggregate, women, members of ethnic/racial minorities, and persons with disabilities are less successful in commanding attractive, well-remunerated S&E-related positions than their proportions in the general population (or the population of high school graduates) would predict.

Two explanations are typically offered for the disproportionate participation of certain categories of workers in a pluralistic society: individual choice (ability, motivation, preparation) and organizational preference (need, experience). Are there other explanations? The contributions of foreign citizens to U.S. science and engineering have a long and stellar tradition. Our graduate support mechanisms reflect public policies that value the nurturance of research talent regardless of nationality. But noncitizens are not eligible for certain forms of support (e.g., fellowships) and must demonstrate "special skills" to qualify for temporary visas.

America’s goal remains the same: attract, produce, and retain the finest science and engineering students, researchers, and educators for the 21st century.

The central task for the Task Force is to examine the demographic composition of the pool, assess long-term national workforce trends, and recommend strategies to modify and augment Federal policies that address the needs of new entrants to, and those seeking retraining in, the S&E workforce.


II. Scope of the Framework

Historically, the Federal Government has supported the production of doctoral scientists and engineers through a plethora of education, training, tax, and immigration policies. Such support reflects where new thinking, better coordination, or stronger investment would prepare the population in school and on the job for an ever-changing landscape of work participation and career opportunity.

The NWP workplan focuses on central analytical tasks and proposes a set of activities that will yield a report to inform how the Federal government, in collaboration with other actors, can help prepare the future S&T workforce. A timeline for completing the Task Force is also included below.

A. Central Analytical Tasks on the Workforce

  1. Immigration and Graduate Training. The U.S. imposes quotas on visas awarded to reunite families as well as attract those with scarce skills deemed to be vital to the national interest. For those admitted for educational purposes, enrollments and degree conferrals convey expectations that neophyte scientists and engineers will add productively to our economy after graduation. But our policies regarding noncitizens are murky, if not contradictory. After investing in their graduate study, the U.S. makes it difficult to hire and retain foreign scientists and engineers. While return to their native country is encouraged, more than half have historically remained in the U.S. The trend, a higher rate of student return to their native countries, signals a loss – understandable, but a loss nonetheless – to our economy. At the same time, those who populate the university faculty, especially in engineering and computer science fields, may discourage undergraduates (particularly women).

    How can the policies that draw foreign students be harmonized with workforce policies that will yield to the U.S. a greater return on its education and training investment?

    Short-term fixes can create long-term difficulties – both for the individual and the social unit in question (e.g., the firm, industry, sector). Raising the ceiling on H-1B visas recognizes the immediate need for high-skilled IT workers. It uses the importation of talent to compensate for the lack of citizens with requisite IT skills and interests. Is such "hole-filling" a viable strategy for meeting long-term needs? Why are citizens not responding to supply-demand fluctuations in the job market? And in the wake of the Wen Ho Lee case, anecdotal evidence suggests that polygraph testing and other measures are having a chilling effect on recruitment and retention, particularly among Asian American scientists and engineers in DOE laboratories.

    The growing literature on supply-demand and projected IT needs – from the 1998 President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee Interim Report to the 2000 NAS/NRC study, Workforce Needs in Information Technology – requires critical review. Such review should be done in the context of graduate and postdoctoral education. Recent studies highlight field and institutional differences in the recruitment, utilization, mentoring, and professional development of new doctoral researchers, including the oft-time mismatch between market needs and individual aspirations, and the flexibility universities have in responding to market demand and student interest.

The Task Force will review the literature on immigration, degree-taking, and composition of new entrants to the S&T workforce to determine what data and analyses are needed to inform next steps in crafting and amending Federal workforce policies.

  1. Math and Science Teachers. The demographic and skill structure of the K-12 teacher workforce poses different challenges. Projected retirements, student-teacher ratios, a shortage of qualified mathematics and science content specialists, depressed wages, inadequate facility with learning technologies, heightened accountability for student outcomes, and state and district certification requirements attenuate the appeal of the teaching profession. Even those well-prepared, capable, and successful leave within the first 2-5 years for a combination of reasons: unreasonable work loads, resource constraints on classroom materials, increasing linguistic and ethnic diversity, a paucity of collegiality and real professional development. Teachers with a concentration in mathematics and science have career options. Just as those who enter the ranks of teaching through alternative certification represent a supplementary source of talent, math and science teachers may have new employment opportunities outside of education. Retirees, e.g., from the military, represent a cadre of teaching talent as well. What, then, will be the main sources of quality mathematics and science for the next decade? Such issues were addressed in Before It’s Too Late, the 2000 report of the National Commission on Math and Science Teaching in the 21st Century ("Glenn Commission") that will be consulted.

The Task Force will examine recommendations of the Glenn Commission report and other sources that address changes in the teacher workforce in the context of broader workforce dynamics.

  1. Continuous Skill and Knowledge Development. A different analytical task – one of estimation and description is indicated regarding those presently not pursuing full-time study and already in the workforce who seek training through "distance learning" technologies, employer-sponsored courses, community college offerings, and other modalities. The suspicion, based on assessments especially by the Educational Testing Service, is that growth in higher education is increasingly of these kinds, outside the traditional transition from baccalaureate to graduate degrees. The approach in these studies is market focused, i.e., what skills do jobs require, rather than supply-driven, i.e., what proportion of BS, MS, and PhD degree recipients are employed, by field and specialization? As the half-life of knowledge shrinks and knowledge creation accelerates, the need for students and those already in the workforce to augment their knowledge base becomes essential (formal and informal "lifelong learning"). Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) should help illuminate which occupations are growing and the education/training prerequisites for them. A related issue is to what extent Internet-based work shifts opportunities outside of the U.S. and whether these decisions are driven by cost and profitability or by a shortage of qualified workers, as the IT industry claims.

The Task Force will identify how employer- and self-financed opportunities for skills acquisition and job mobility is affecting the S&T workforce. In which industries and positions does such professional development pose alternatives to traditional degree-based recruitment and hiring?

B. Task Force Activities

To address key variables and complete the analysis of workforce segments outlined above, two kinds of NWP activities in addition to ongoing in-house review of documents are envisioned:

The Task Force prefers briefings to public events. The size of the budget to support contractor and other activities remains to be determined.


III. A Timeline for Task Force Activities (italics indicates completed)

October 18, 2000

Inaugural meeting and discussion of Charge


Review of major background documents

December 13

Discuss, revise, and approve workplan


Review new literature (see update of NSB/EHR/NWP 00-3)

January 30, 2001

All-Day Briefing: SRS, BLS Data Overview


Award Contracts for Reports/Contractors Initiate Work


Possible Briefing


Telecon to review Task Force progress and discuss policy recommendations/lead actors


Possible Briefing


Draft, discuss, and iterate report


Revise draft report


Present draft report for approval to full NSB


Release the report

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