The Joint Program on Survey Methodology (JPSM) provides advanced education for survey research professionals through a collaboration among the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, and Westat, a survey research firm. As part of their training, JPSM students take a course in which they design and analyze a survey on a topic of interest to a federal statistical agency.
In 2009, JPSM's survey probed the meaning of SESTAT data indicating that many college-educated Americans who are not employed in S&E occupations say their jobs require the technical expertise of an S&E bachelor's degree. The survey asked a nationally representative group of college graduates who are members of the Knowledge Networks Internet survey panel about the knowledge and skills they use on the job and the education and experience through which they acquired them. The survey also collected various additional information about the survey respondents—the colleges they attended; their major fields of study; and the characteristics of their current and previous jobs, including respondents' occupations, salaries, job satisfaction, and employer characteristics.
Preliminary analyses suggest that asking about either "knowledge and skills" or "technical expertise" produces roughly equivalent response patterns; if anything, a higher percentage of respondents claim that "knowledge and skills" associated with a degree are required on the job than make the equivalent claim about "technical expertise." In addition, the data suggest that graduates in different major fields vary in how often they claim that their jobs require bachelor's level competency in a field. Along with education majors, people who major in natural sciences and engineering appear to more frequently view their jobs as requiring bachelor's degree level competency in some field of study. Those who major in health-related fields and social sciences rank somewhat below them. College graduates with degrees in arts, humanities, business administration, communications, and other fields outside the sciences less often report that their jobs need this kind of competency. However, these data offer numerous opportunities for further analysis of the relationships among knowledge, skills, and job activities, and such analyses might cast these preliminary findings in a different light.
Projections of employment growth are plagued by uncertain assumptions and notoriously difficult to make. Many corporate and government spending decisions on R&D are impossible to anticipate. In addition, R&D funds increasingly cross borders in search of the best place to have particular research performed. Finally, it may be difficult to anticipate new products and industries that may be created via the innovation processes that are most closely associated with scientists and engineers.
The worldwide economic crisis and the dynamics of recovery from it compound the already difficult problem of making employment projections, because recent economic upheavals may produce long-term changes in employment patterns and trends. The reader is cautioned that the assumptions underlying projections such as those that follow, which rely on past empirical relationships, may no longer be valid.
The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) occupational projections, for the period 2008–18, suggest that total employment in occupations that NSF classifies as S&E will increase at more than double the overall growth rate for all occupations (figure 3-A). S&E occupations are projected to grow by 20.6% between 2008 and 2018, while employment in all occupations is projected to grow 10.1% over the same period (table 3-A, appendix table 3-1).* These projections involve only the demand for strictly defined S&E occupations and do not include the wider range of jobs in which S&E degree holders often use their training.
Approximately 58% of BLS's projected increase in S&E jobs is in computer and mathematical scientist occupations (table 3-A). Although life scientists account for a smaller number of job openings, they have a higher projected growth rate (26.7%) than computer and mathematical scientists (25.6%). The growth rates projected for physical scientists and social scientists are also above those for all occupations. Engineering occupations, with projected growth of 11.3%, are expected to grow at only slightly more than the rate for all jobs.
Table 3-A also shows occupations that either contain significant numbers of S&E-trained people or represent other career paths that are often chosen by S&E bachelor's degree holders who pursue graduate training. Among these, the occupation healthcare practitioners and technicians is projected to grow faster than all S&E occupations, from 7.5 million to 9.1 million workers over the decade between 2008 and 2018—an increase of 21.4%. Postsecondary teacher, which includes all fields of instruction, is projected to grow 15.1%. In contrast, BLS projects computer programmers to decrease by 2.9%.
BLS also projects that job openings in NSF-identified S&E occupations over the 2008–18 period will represent a greater proportion of current employment than openings in all other occupations—41.7% versus 33.7% (figure 3-B). Job openings include both growth in total employment and openings caused by attrition.
*Although BLS labor force projections do a reasonable job of forecasting employment in many occupations (see Alpert and Auyer 2003), the mean absolute percentage error in the 1988 forecast of employment in detailed occupations in 2000 was 23.2%.