Chapter 3:

Science and Engineering Workforce

S&E Job Patterns in the Service Sector [13]

Although the service sector accounted for only 4 percent of the scientists, 10 percent of the engineers, and 26 percent of the technicians employed in the United States in 1994 (the latest year for which data are available), analysts look to service sector employment as a leading indicator of the health of the S&E labor market, given the economic shift from a manufacturing to a service-oriented base.[14]  The term "service sector" as used here denotes establishments engaged in wholesale and retail trade, transportation, communication, and utilities. Employment of scientists, engineers, and technicians in the service sector increased from 1988 to 1991, then dropped sharply from 1991 to 1994. By 1994, the number of employed scientists and engineers in service industries (185,200) was 8 percent below the 1988 level of 202,000 and 15 percent below the 1991 level of 219,000.[15]  (See text table 3-15.)

Engineering and technician employment was particularly affected by the downturn, as the 1994 total of 129,800 engineers employed in the service sector represented a drop of 11 percent from 1988 and 16 percent from 1991. Technician employment dropped 12 percent over the six-year period. Although employment of scientists dropped 13 percent between 1991 and 1994, the overall decline for the 1988-94 period was negligible.

Principal Employers top

As described here, the service sector is divided into three major industry groups: (1) transportation, communications, and utilities; (2) wholesale trade; and (3) retail trade. Within these groups, three industries accounted for 80 percent of total employed scientists and engineers in the service sector in 1994, down from 85 percent in 1988:

Most of the total sectoral drop in S&E employment between 1988 and 1994 occurred in wholesale trade-durable goods, where 13,500 S&E jobs (19 percent of the industry's 1988 S&E workforce) were lost; and in communications, where 9,000 S&E jobs (20 percent of the industry's 1988 S&E workforce) were lost. (See figure 3-10.)

Partially offsetting the sizable loss in these two industries were gains in wholesale trade-nondurable goods, which provided 2,900 jobs, representing 35 percent of the industry's 1988 S&E workforce; and retail trade, with 3,300 new jobs, representing 34 percent of the industry's 1988 S&E workforce, over the six-year period. In 1994, however, combined total S&E employment in these latter two industries constituted only 13 percent of sectoral S&E employment (3 percent in wholesale trade-nondurable goods and 10 percent in retail trade), which was down from 1991 levels in both industries.

Employment of Scientists top

At first glance, scientists might appear to have escaped the decline experienced by their engineer and technician counterparts, as total 1994 employment of 55,400 scientists in the service sector was virtually unchanged from the 1988 figure of 55,500. However, employment of scientists had jumped to 63,900 (an increase of 15 percent) between 1988 and 1991 before falling back in 1994 to the earlier level.

Among service industries employing at least 1,000 scientists in 1991, science employment in all but one declined—often dramatically—between 1991 and 1994. These industries included general merchandise stores and air transportation (both down by 34 percent); trucking and warehousing (down 29 percent); transportation services (down 25 percent); wholesale trade-durable goods (down 20 percent); furniture and home furnishings stores (down 18 percent); wholesale trade-nondurable goods (down 13 percent); miscellaneous retail (down 5 percent); and electric, gas, and sanitary services (down 4 percent). Only in communications was there a 1991-94 increase in employment of scientists (3 percent) (NSF forthcoming).

Employment of Engineers top

Of the 19 service sector industries, three accounted for 87 percent of all employed engineers in 1994:

All three industries suffered declines in engineering employment over the full six-year period 1988-94 and over the shorter 1991-94 period. Wholesale trade-durable goods lost 19,800 engineering jobs between 1991 and 1994 (35 percent of the industry's 1988 engineering workforce and 30 percent of its 1991 engineering workforce). Engineering job losses were more moderate in the other two large service industries. Electric, gas, and sanitary services lost 2,400 (6 percent) of its 42,300 1988 engineering jobs; and communications lost 6,100 (18 percent) of its 33,100 1988 engineering positions. (See figure 3-11.)

Among smaller service industries employing at least 1,000 engineers in 1991, a substantial 1988-94 decline in engineering employment was suffered only by air transportation (a 4 percent decline, but dropping to 33 percent of its 1991 level). All other such service industries either maintained or increased their employment of engineers. Industries employing at least 1,000 engineers and experiencing 1988-94 increases included miscellaneous retail (67 percent), water transportation (60 percent), furniture and home furnishings stores (40 percent), and wholesale trade-nondurable goods (23 percent).

Employment of Technicians top

Service sector employment of technicians was dominated by the same three industries as engineering in 1994—and, with 85 percent of this group, almost to the same extent. Wholesale trade-durable goods employed 92,300 (39 percent) of the sector's technicians and experienced the most significant declines—a loss of 10,800 jobs (4 percent) between 1988 and 1991, and an additional 13,400 jobs (13 percent) between 1991 and 1994. The combined loss of 24,200 technician jobs in wholesale trade-durable goods from 1988 to 1994 represented 73 percent of the lost technician jobs in the entire service sector over a six-year period.

Communications, the second largest technician-employing service sector (64,300 jobs, or 27 percent of the sectoral total in 1994) lost 5,200 jobs between 1988 and 1991, but gained 3,000 of these back between 1991 and 1994. Electric, gas, and sanitary services—the third largest employer of technicians in the service sector—lost 5,200 (8 percent) of its 66,500 1988 technician jobs. Like communications, it gained 3,000 of these positions back between 1991 and 1994.

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[13] Information in this section is from NSF (1997d).

[14] Service sector industries are those included in Standard Industrial Classification codes 40-59. Excluded are educational services and state and local governments. Other industries traditionally thought of as "service" industries—such as financial, insurance, real estate, and legal service; entertainment; health services; social services; and hotels and other lodging places—are covered under a separate survey cycle on nonmanufacturing industries; these were last reported on by NSF (forthcoming). Note that the industry groups referred to here as the "service sector" were denoted as "trade and regulated industries" in previous survey cycles.

[15] These data are compiled from the Occupational Employment Statistics survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with support from NSF. (See NSF 1997c.) Until 1996, U.S. business establishments were surveyed once every three years, with roughly one-third of the establishments covered each year. Starting with the 1996 survey cycle (for which data are not yet available), all establishments employing nonfarm wage and salary workers are being surveyed annually.

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