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The High Stakes of
Forecasting Future Jobs 

How many computer scientists will the United States need over the next decade? How many engineers, mathematicians, or programmers? Answers to questions like these have huge consequences for higher education, private industry, and public policies. 

For example, a glut of computer scientists in an economy that doesn’t have enough jobs for them can depress wages in the field, leaving graduates to search for other careers. On the other hand, training too few computer scientists could reduce the country’s competitiveness in high-tech industries. And of course, projections of surplus or shortfall play a role in setting policies that enable the migration of talent from abroad.   

Despite the significance of these estimates, reliable projections have been notoriously difficult to determine, as Ron Hira details in his Real Numbers essay. In the highly complex science and engineering labor market, data are limited, which means that policy discussions on the issue sometimes lack crucial nuances. “Better data and more rigorous norms for talking about those data,” Hira notes, “can move the conversation to a higher level.”

How can a better understanding of future STEM jobs improve policymaking?

Shirley Malcom on Embracing America's Diversity Dividend
Embracing America’s “Diversity Dividend”
To remain a global leader in innovation, argues Shirley Malcom, the United States must diversify its science, engineering, and technology workforce.
Plus: Local policymakers oversee almost $2 trillion in annual spending, and their decisions about how to spend this money can often be informed by research—but connecting policymakers and scientists is no easy task.
By adding glycerol and gelatin to a molasses and grain mixture, students from the College for Creative Studies created a flexible biopolymer-based material that they called ReForm.
With long-lasting plastics made from petrochemicals a major environmental threat, a range of companies are investing in “bioplastics” from sustainable and biodegradable natural materials. Students are also joining the action through the Biodesign Challenge, a nonprofit competition and education program. A student team at the Pratt Institute has developed a way to turn food scraps into ecofriendly plastic casings for electronics products, while another team at the College for Creative Studies has learned to convert various crop wastes into biodegradable packaging for consumer products.
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Header photography by Martina Maksimović.
Issues in Science and Technology is a publication of Arizona State University and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
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