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The U.S. Needs More STEM Workers ASAP. A National Science and Technology Strategy Can Help.

June 12, 2024

Meeting the demand for a diverse, domestic workforce is essential to U.S. leadership in science and technology.

When it comes to driving the U.S. economy, fostering innovation, and securing global leadership, one of the greatest assets is a robust, diverse STEM workforce. Yet, with demand rapidly rising for skilled STEM professionals, the U.S. risks not being able to fully meet this critical need.

The STEM workforce today includes more than 36 million people and accounts for 24% of the total labor pool in the U.S. — and those numbers are growing rapidly. Unfortunately, the talent pipeline — including in the burgeoning AI industry — is not growing quickly enough to meet such high demand. For example, the semiconductor industry faces a significant workforce gap in the coming years. While the number of semiconductor jobs is projected to increase 33% by the end of the decade, 58% of these positions could go unfilled at current degree completion rates.

We can’t let that happen.

An all-encompassing national science and technology strategy that ramps up federal funding in science and technology can help solve the STEM talent crisis by building the diverse, domestic STEM workforce the nation needs to power innovation today — and in the future. Given the number of disciplines involved in STEM, comprehensive coordination among federal science and technology agencies, as well as strategic partnerships with the private sector, are also essential.

“As the demand for high-wage, high-skill jobs increases and the STEM workforce gap widens, our country’s competitive edge relies on … significant federal investments in STEM education and workforce development,” ” Frank Lucas, R-Okla., wrote in a recent letter to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

It’s clear there’s much work to be done. The Science & Technology Action Committee’s State of Science in America report found a majority (53%) of workers in five key sectors rate the quality of the current STEM workforce as fair or poor, while 43% ranked it as excellent or good. The report also found support for several policies that would provide a much-needed boost to workforce development, including increasing government funding for K-12 STEM and post-secondary education, making technical or vocational education programs tuition-free and increasing STEM opportunities for underserved populations, among others.

At the same time, the U.S. can’t lose sight of the societal and other benefits that international STEM workers bring in advancing science and technology in America. As other nations vie for international STEM talent while also developing their own domestic opportunities, the U.S. can’t afford to rely on international talent to bridge the STEM workforce gap.

It’s also fundamentally important that the U.S. ensure the future STEM workforce reflects the full diversity of the nation, not just in terms of workers from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds but also ensuring ample opportunities for STEM workers in communities throughout the U.S.

A recently released national strategy from a group called the STEMM Opportunity Alliance could help. Backed by $2 billion in funding, the alliance — a group of more than 200 private companies, higher education institutions, federal and state governments and philanthropic organizations — hopes to add 20 million new, diverse workers across all jobs and sectors by 2050.

“America’s diversity of thought, derived from our diversity of geography, background and identity, is one of our nation’s strongest assets,” Sudip Parikh, STAC co-chair, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, said in a statement announcing the strategy. “Growing the STEM workforce to its greatest potential enables us to create a world where every child, regardless of their background, sees participation in STEM as their birthright.”

While efforts such as those by the alliance represent a great starting point to addressing the workforce gap, Congress and the entire federal government must bring to bear all resources from the bipartisan 2022 CHIPS and Science Act and elsewhere to ensure the U.S. is equipped with the skilled professionals it needs to maintain its global innovation lead. And there’s no better place to start than a fully funded national science and technology strategy.

The Science & Technology Action Committee (STAC) is a group of 25 non-profit, academic, foundation, and corporate leaders working to dramatically strengthen U.S. science and technology. The Committee is co-chaired by: Bill Novelli, Professor Emeritus and founder of Business for Impact at Georgetown University and former CEO of AARP, Sudip Parikh, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Executive Publisher of the Science Family of Journals, Mary Woolley, President & CEO of Research!America, and Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy at UCSF and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).