This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

January 27, 2010

STEM Grads and Competitiveness

A few years ago, we heard Dean Kamen, brilliant inventor of the Segway transportation system, speak during his FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) Championships. Kamen founded FIRST, an international robotics competition, to encourage young people to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects in school.

He lamented the fact that our youth seemed to revere the accomplishments of sports celebrities and rock stars, while our scientific geniuses went virtually unrecognized. More recently, United States President Barack Obama at his Whitehouse summit for youth echoed Kamen's words, himself promoting the study of the STEM topics as a matter of competitiveness.

Most recently, DARPA, the US Department of Defense's research agency, issued a report reinforcing what we have been saying for years---a "significant national decline" in the number of US college graduates with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees is "harming our national security". (For years, we have sounded this alarm: see

DARPA blames public perception and a heightened awareness of international outsourcing trends. . . leading people to believe that there are fewer jobs in these fields. Yet, according to the US Department of Labor in November 2007, "Computer Software Engineers, Applications" was the fourth fastest growing occupation. In the period between 2006 and 2007, we had 43 percent fewer graduates in than in 2003-2004, according to the Computer Research Association. Additionally, these degrees are especially declining for women and minorities.

According to the DARPA report, this issue is of "national importance" and "affects our capacity to maintain a technological lead in critical skills and disciplines" on the international stage---"a national security risk waiting to happen". The increasing complexity of systems means we will require more people with higher levels of talent to manage and maintain them. Employers find recruiting the right people with these specialized talents is becoming more difficult. As this trend evolves, the US Department of Defense will be directly affected.

To respond to this crisis, DARPA wants proposals for initiatives that would attract teens to STEM careers. We believe a massive public relations campaign is in order. The US is not alone.

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