Chapter 3:

Science and Engineering Workforce


There were few changes in labor market conditions for scientists and engineers between 1993 and 1995, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are available. For Ph.D. scientists and engineers, the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged-moving from 1.6 to 1.5 percent. A similarly slight change held for recent S&E Ph.D. recipients, whose unemployment rate went from 1.7 to 1.9 percent and whose IOF rate increased from 4.0 to 4.3 percent. Unemployment rates across all S&E occupations were also low for bachelor's (2.1 percent) and master's (2.5 percent) degree level scientists and engineers.

While the vast majority of new Ph.D. scientists and engineers do find work that is relevant to their training, indicators of labor market difficulties exist in several fields. In physics, unemployment rates for recent Ph.D.s have dropped to 2.9 percent, but the IOF proportion has increased to 6.7 percent, with placement in tenure-track positions at a historical low. For recent Ph.D. biological scientists, unemployment and IOF rates are low, but so is pay; and the drop in the percentage of tenure-track positions is the greatest of any field. Relative labor market difficulties also exist for recent Ph.D. graduates in political science; mathematics; sociology/anthropology; and the earth, atmospheric, and oceanographic sciences.

While postdoctoral appointments for additional training have become more prevalent over time in most S&E fields, labor market difficulties have stymied their increased use. Exceptions may include both physics-where multiple postdoctorate appointments are becoming more common than in the past-and the earth, atmospheric, and oceanographic sciences-where 29.3 percent of postdoctorates said they took their appointments primarily because other employment was not available.

The future of the S&E labor market is difficult to forecast for any number of practical reasons, but some indicators do exist. On the demand side, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an increase in S&E jobs of 44 percent between 1996 and 2006-a growth rate three times faster than that for all occupations. The supply of individuals in the labor market with S&E degrees at all levels is likely to continue to increase even if there is no growth in degree production: current graduate numbers are much greater than the number of employed scientists now nearing traditional retirement ages. The same age structure of S&E workers suggests, however, that the number of scientists and engineers retiring will increase dramatically over the next 25 years even if the average retirement age increases.

While changes in earnings and unemployment rates are impossible to predict, on balance these factors suggest a future S&E labor force that is larger and older. Further, this labor force will generally be able to find employment that make use of its training, though not necessarily in tenured academic positions.

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