Filling the Pipeline With Technology Workers
In this unprecedented time in our nation’s history, education leaders have a special duty to rethink priorities and plans for the future. The strength and stability of our economy — and of the global economy — are newly of grave concern. Additionally, our security demands an array of new knowledge and technologies.
Science and technology offer hope for the future of our nation and our world during this period of uncertainty. In fields from energy to communications, investments intended to spur scientific and technological breakthroughs will point us toward a safe and prosperous future.
Although the information technology sector currently is experiencing retrenchment, the need for an educated work force with modern skills continues. Despite layoffs, an annual survey of 500 large American companies by the IT (Information Technology) consulting firm META Group reported that an estimated 600,000 jobs for IT workers in the United States have gone unfilled. A study by the National Academy of Public Administration showed that the federal government is expected to increase its IT work force by 20 percent over the next seven years because half of its current IT employees will be eligible to retire by 2006.
By 2008, according to projections by the U.S. Labor Department, jobs requiring technical degrees are projected to grow by 51 percent, while job growth overall is projected at 12 percent. At the same time, as many as two million workers with science and engineering degrees will retire.
The numbers of students in engineering and the physical sciences — and even in the computer sciences — are static or declining, according to data compiled by the National Science Board.
This trend away from science and technology education endangers our national future, our national competitiveness and our national security.
There have been times when we have been afraid to speak of educating the talented, because it seemed to fly in the face of the deeply cherished value of egalitarianism. But I do believe we have an obligation to do so. Our ability to carry out this responsibility rests, necessarily, on the number of talented, prepared and motivated students available.
However, we may be overlooking a great source of new talent. Many of these students who might step up to the task of leading our next generation are members of educationally underserved ethnic groups. Members of these groups are rapidly becoming majorities on some campuses, but they continue to be a minority among the upper levels of the professional ranks. Many, also are young women. We cannot afford to overlook this robust pool of talent.
We all know that the creation of scientists and engineers does not occur overnight. Generating an adequate number will take a long and full pipeline. Filling that pipeline will require us to do the following:
• Identify and prepare the most talented and motivated K-12 students;
• Find ways in every venue to enrich their experiences and encourage their progress;
• Engage them and their teachers in the excitement of learning;
• Seek new ways to engage scientists, engineers and mathematicians in teaching;
• Compensate such individuals adequately and offer unique professional opportunities to those who would teach; and
• Provide and assist them with state-of-the-art classroom technologies.
The imperatives we face require this and more. They transcend moral obligation. This is a matter of enlightened self-interest — and it is in our national interest.
— Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. This article originally appeared in Trusteeship magazine.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com