Shortage or surplus? A long-term perspective on the supply of scientists and engineers in the USA and the UK
journal contributionposted on 20.03.2017, 10:23 by Emma Smith
A ‘crisis account’ of shortages of well-qualified scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technologists has shaped education policy in the UK and the USA for decades. The apparent poor quality of school science education along with insufficient numbers of well-qualified teachers have been linked to skills shortages by government and other agencies since at least the time of the Second World War. There is, however, an alternative account that challenges the received view of a skills deficit and questions the evidence for sustained and long-term shortages across the sector. This paper provides an historical account of some of the main events that have characterised debates over the supply and demand of science and engineering professionals in the UK and the USA and the implications that this has had for science education policy. Starting from the end of the Second World War, the paper looks at the key challenges to the evidence that underpins the shortage debate and considers the consequences that more than seven decades of crisis accounts have had on the recruitment and retention of highly skilled scientists and engineers. The paper shows that while the shortage debate has a long history, it is one that is characterised by poor quality data as well as methodological and conceptual challenges. It argues that there is no consensus view about the existence of a skills deficit and that while there may have been short-lived shortfalls in specialist areas, there is little evidence in support of widespread and far reaching shortages as the rhetoric often claims.