2000 CEOSE Biennial
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A Growing Demand; An Inadequate Supply
Barriers To A Competitive SMET Workforce
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     Barriers To A Competitive SMET Workforce

Business leaders predict a major shortage of American technology workers in the coming decade. However, there is an underutilized domestic talent pool that could virtually eliminate the SMET worker shortage – consisting of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities. All three groups are underrepresented in the SMET workforce compared to their percentages within the general population. The disparity continues to grow as underrepresented groups become an ever larger part of the workforce. For example, the number of whites in the labor force is expected to grow by only 7% by 2008, while the number of Hispanics will soar by 37% and the number of African-Americans will climb by 19%.

Figure 2.
Projected Employment and Labor Force Growth, by Gender and Race/Ethnicity: 1998-2008

 
SMET employment
+ 51%
 
Total employment
+ 14%
 
Total civilian labor force
+ 12%
 
Men
+ 10%
 
Women
+ 15%
 
White, non-Hispanic
+ 7%
 
African-American
+ 19%
 
Hispanic
+ 37%
 
Asian & Other
+ 40%
  Sources: Fullerton, H.N., “Labor force projections to 2008: steady growth and changing composition,” Monthly Labor Review, November 1999; Braddock, D., “Occupational employment projections to 2008,” Monthly Labor Review, November 1999.
two students working at computers

Why are underrepresented groups not entering the SMET fields fast enough to address the labor shortage? The reasons can be traced all the way back to elementary school. Research shows that boys and girls show similar prowess in science and mathematics in elementary school, but a gap appears as they grow older. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tracked science and mathematics progress throughout the 1990s for male and female students beginning at age nine and ending at 17. The study found that nine-year-old male and female performance on mathematics and science assessments was nearly identical. By age 17, the gap had widened dramatically, particularly in science: males outscored females by nearly 10 points.

There are several reasons why underrepresented minority groups choose not to pursue SMET careers. Primarily, it seems, their schools suffer from a lack of educational resources, limiting access to high quality science and math education. Educators may encourage students from underrepresented groups towards certain fields and away from others. For example, when males and females select a major as they enter college, a distinctive difference occurs in the fields they choose to pursue. Young women show a high level of interest in the biological sciences, yet they tend to avoid computer or information science and engineering. By the time they reach graduate school, women represent 22% of the enrollment in computer or information science programs and 18% of the enrollment in engineering programs.)

college student SMET MajorHighly motivated minority students often function at a disadvantage. Minorities tend to be enrolled in urban schools that are staffed by fewer teachers who majored in mathematics or science. The 1998 Conditions of Education Report from the U.S. Department of Education pointed out that in schools where most students were minorities, almost 40% of mathematics teachers did not major in that discipline, and close to 25% of science teachers did not major in science. By contrast, in schools where less than 5% of students are minorities, 25% of teachers did not major in mathematics and 19% did not major in science.

Social and family issues play a large role in the academic performance of minorities. On average, they facefar more risk factors as they progress through school than do whites, and they often do not have the family support structure or financial support to help them succeed. Without a formal support structure, minorities may not successfully overcome barriers to educational performance.

Figure 3.
College Students Expressing Interest in an SMET Major: Gender Breakdown

 

Intended College Major

Male

Female

Biological Sciences

35%

65%

Computer or Information Science

78%

22%

Engineering

82%

18%

Mathematics

57%

43%

Physical Sciences

59%

41%

Technical and Vocational

68%

32%

     

Source: The College Board, “SAT Math Scores for 2000 Hit 30-Year High,”
The College Board News, 2000, (see http://www.collegeboard.org/press).

 

 

 

 

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Last Modified: Jan 24, 2013

 

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