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Chapter 3. Science and Engineering Labor Force

Global S&E Labor Force

The rising emphasis on developing S&E expertise and technical capabilities has been a global phenomenon. S&E work is not limited to developed economies; it occurs throughout the world. Such work, however, is concentrated in developed nations, where a significant portion of R&D also takes place. The availability of a suitable labor force is an important determinant of where businesses choose to locate S&E work (Davis and Hart 2010), and concentrations of existing S&E work, in turn, spawn new employment opportunities for workers with relevant S&E knowledge and skills. As a result, governments in many countries have made increased investments in S&E-related postsecondary education a high priority. At the same time, high-skill workers, such as those educated or employed in S&E fields, are increasingly mobile, and the number that leave their native countries to pursue education and career goals is growing. In recent years, many nations, recognizing the value of high-skill workers for the economy as a whole, have changed their laws to make it easier for such workers to immigrate. These changes indicate an accelerating competition for globally mobile talent (Shachar 2006).

Data on the global S&E workforce, however, are very limited, which makes it difficult to analyze the precise size and characteristics of this specialized workforce. Unfortunately, the internationally comparable data that exist are limited to establishment surveys that provide only basic information about workers in S&E occupations or with training in S&E disciplines. In contrast, SESTAT includes far more data on members of the U.S. S&E labor force than is available in other national statistical systems. In addition, although surveys that collect workforce data are conducted in many OECD member countries, they do not cover several countries—including Brazil, India, and Israel—that have high and rising levels of science and technology capability, and they do not provide fully comparable data for China.

This section provides information about the size and growth of workforce segments whose jobs involve R&D in nations for which relevant data exist.

Size and Growth of the Global S&E Labor Force

Although comprehensive data on the worldwide S&E workforce do not exist, OECD data covering significant, internationally comparable segments of the S&E workforce provide strong evidence of widespread, though uneven, growth in the world’s developed nations. OECD countries, which include most of the world’s highly developed nations, compile data on researchers from establishment surveys in member and selected non-member countries. These surveys generally use a standardized occupational classification that defines researchers as “professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge, products, processes, methods and systems and also in the management of the projects concerned” (OECD 2002:93). Because this definition can be applied differently when different nations conduct surveys, international comparisons should be made with caution. OECD also reports data on a broader measure of all personnel employed directly in R&D. In addition to researchers, the data on total R&D personnel include those who provide direct services to R&D such as clerical and administrative staff employed in R&D organizations.

OECD reports an estimated increase in the number of researchers in its member countries from 2.8 million in 1995 to 4.2 million in 2007. OECD also publishes estimates for seven non-member economies, including China and Russia; adding these to the OECD member total for 2007 yields a worldwide estimate of 6.3 million researchers. However, numerous uncertainties affect this estimate, including, but not limited to, lack of coverage of countries with significant R&D enterprise, as well as methodological inconsistencies over time and across countries. For example, some non-member countries that engage in large and growing amounts of research (e.g., India, Brazil) are omitted entirely from these totals. In addition, for some countries and regions, including the United States and the European Union (EU; see glossary for member countries), OECD estimates are derived from multiple national data sources and not from a uniform or standardized data collection procedure. For example, China’s data after 2008 are collected in accordance with OECD definitions and standards; compared to China’s estimate for 2008, these data yield estimates of about 440,000, 382,000, and 274,000 fewer researchers in 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively.

Despite these limitations for making worldwide estimates of the number of researchers, the OECD data are a reasonable starting point for estimating the rate of worldwide growth. For most economies with large numbers of researchers, growth since the mid-1990s has been substantial (figure 3-42). China, whose pre-2009 data did not entirely correspond to the OECD definition, reported about triple the number of researchers in 2008 compared with 1995. South Korea doubled its number of researchers between 1995 and 2006 and continued to grow strongly between 2007 and 2011. The United States and the EU experienced steady growth but at a lower rate; the number of researchers grew 36% in the United States between 1995 and 2007 and 65% in the EU between 1995 and 2010. Exceptions to the overall worldwide trend included Japan (which experienced little change) and Russia (which experienced a decline, especially early in the period; see also Gokhberg and Nekipelova 2002). Trends in full-time equivalent R&D personnel were generally parallel to those for researchers in those cases for which both kinds of data are available (appendix table 3-23).

OECD also estimates the proportion of researchers in the workforce. In OECD’s most recent estimates, small economies in Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden) report that between 1% and 2% of their employed workforce are researchers; small economies in East Asia (Singapore, Taiwan) report that about 1% of their workforce are researchers (appendix table 3-24). Among economies with more than 200,000 researchers, OECD’s latest estimates are that researchers make up the highest proportions of the workforce in Japan (1.0%), South Korea (1.2%), and the United States (0.95%). Although China reports a large number of researchers, they are a much smaller percentage of its workforce (0.17%) than in OECD member countries.

Several Asian economies have shown marked and continuous increases in the percentage of their workforce employed as researchers. These include China, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan (appendix table 3-24). In the United States and Japan, where growth occurred at all, it took place mostly between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s (figure 3-43). Patterns and trends in the proportion of the workforce classified as R&D personnel are generally similar to those for researchers.

The proportion of female researchers varies considerably across OECD economies. According to the most recent estimates for the selected OECD countries for which data by sex are available, Japan (14% women) and South Korea (17% women) have a significant imbalance among researchers. By comparison, Turkey, Sweden, Spain, and Poland are more balanced with women representing between 35% and 40% of researchers.

R&D Employment Abroad by U.S. Companies

R&D jobs located abroad in U.S.-owned companies are an indicator of global engagement by U.S. companies in the world’s S&E workforce. Data from NSF’s Business R&D and Innovation Survey (BRDIS) provide an overview of R&D employment in the business sector and enable comparisons between domestic and foreign R&D employment in companies located in the United States (both U.S.- and foreign-owned) that have R&D activity. These data identify employment as either domestic or foreign on the basis of the job’s location and not on the basis of the company’s ownership, the employee’s citizenship, or the employee’s place of birth. Chapter 4 includes a detailed analysis of BRDIS data on R&D employment abroad by U.S. companies.