Results

Optimals

Optimals identified by the leaders of NASA and the aerospace contractor community that comprise the Texas Space Leadership Council are that there should a sufficient number of engineers that join the workforce in response to current and projected needs over the next 10 years.  Well-qualified engineers must be produced by the university system and those  hired into the aerospace industry need to stay current in their chosen specialization.  In addition employees must choose to remain working in aerospace rather than move into other industries.

Actuals

According to the National Science Foundation Science and Engineering (S&E) Indicators (1998)
during the 1996-2006 period (Table 1), employment in S&E occupations is expected to increase at more than three times the rate for all occupations. While the economy as a whole is anticipated to provide approximately 14 percent more jobs over this decade, employment opportunities for S&E jobs are expected to increase by about 44 percent or about 1.36 million jobs. Almost 3.2 million people with a bachelorís degree or higher were employed in an S&E occupation in 1995. Engineers represented 42 percent (1.34 million) of all those in S&E occupations, followed by computer and math scientists with 30 percent (950,000) of the total.

Table 1: Science and Engineering job projections through 2006 (National Science Foundation)

The job outlook for engineers through 2008 is expected to be as "fast as the average" (see Table 2) for all occupations while the amount of degrees awarded is remaining constant and not rising.  The job outlook for systems analysts, computer engineers and computer scientists is expected to be the fastest growing occupation through 2008.  Employment of these professionals is expected to be much faster than average as technology becomes more sophisticated and in addition thousands of job openings will arise annually from the need to replace workers who move into management positions or leave the labor force.

According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics (March 2000) nationally occupations projected to grow the fastest include information technology jobs of all types including computer engineers which are projected to grow by 109% over the next 10 years.  Electrical engineering positions are projected to grow by 27%, aeronautical engineers by 8%, mechanical engineers by 16%, civil engineers by 18%, industrial engineers by 14%, chemical engineers by 15%, scientists by over 25% and mathematicians by 9%.  The projected employment for aerospace engineers to be hired by the federal government however is at minus 5%!

Table 2: National Bureau of Labor Statistics
Grow much faster than average increase 36 percent or more
Grow faster than average increase 21 to 35 percent
Grow about as fast as average increase 10 to 20 percent
Grow more slowly than average or little or no change increase 0 to9 percent
Decline decrease 1 percent or more

According to the Texas State Occupational Information Coordinating Committee, the projected growth rate for computer scientists in Texas is 137.3% and for system analysts the growth rate is projected to be 88.6%. As reported in the Dallas Morning News industry leaders are worried that they won't have enough workers if they don't promote North Texas as a high-tech mecca. "It will impede the growth of our existing companies," said Jack Swindle, Texas Instruments' senior vice president. "We're going to blink and not have enough workers."  According to Texas Workforce Commission statistics, Texas' technology work force will grow to more than 900,000 by 2000, meaning that the state is projected to add about 130,000 workers to the technology work force.

Texas' technology-based industry won't be able to meet the demand due to a work force shortage. A study by the George Bush School of Government and Public Service found that Texas has between 26,000 and 34,000 unfilled technology jobs. More than 60% of the companies surveyed had unfilled technology jobs. The surveyed companies identified engineers, software programmers and machinists-assemblers as their largest employment needs.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission the Projected Growth (1996-2006) for engineering professions is shown in Table 3 below.

Table 3: Texas Workforce Commission Projections for Engineering
 
Engineer, Math and Natural Science Managers 53.4%
Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineers 32%
Metallurgists Engineers 20%
Petroleum Engineers 18.2%
Chemical Engineers 16.4%
Civil Engineers 25.7%
Electrical & Electronic Engineers 54.8%
Computer Engineers 86.9%
Industrial Engineers, Except Safety 32.5%
Safety Engineers, Except Mining 9.1%
Mechanical Engineers 33.3%
Production Engineers 33.3%
Developmental Engineers 50%
Marine Engineers 16.7%
Agricultural Engineers 0%
Nuclear Engineers 0%
All Engineers 40%

According to America's Career Information Network, projected trends for aerospace engineers in US and Texas show that those for Texas are significantly higher than those for entire United States at 31% growth compared to 8% growth for the country. Trends for computer engineers are at about 75% growth for Texas. In Texas the fastest growing professions include Systems Analysts (89%) and computer engineers (75%).  Wages for aerospace engineers in U.S. and Texas statistics show that those for Texas are slightly lower than those for entire U.S.

Wages, Incentives and Compensation

Starting salaries for computer engineers and scientists with a bachelorís degree is significantly higher than in many other fields.  According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers starting salary for graduates averaged about $45,700 in 1999. NASA and the aerospace contractors currently offers starting coops salaries beginning in the mid $30ís which is non-competitive.  Those graduating with a masterís degree can attract starting salaries averaging about $58,900 which is far beyond the starting salary offers in the aerospace industry which average in the mid $40s.  This is due directly to the amount of funding Congress gives NASA which drives the salaries ranges.  HR personnel interviewed for this needs assessment spoke about the many rejections of offers by college co-ops for engineering jobs at NASA and the contractors (about 1/3rd each year for the past several years) due to non-competitive starting salaries (10 of 31 offers in 1999 at NASA/JSC).   It is believed that the low salaries are directly influencing how many engineering graduates choose the aerospace industry.

In addition to interviewing HR personnel at Lockheed Martin and NASA JSC regarding new recruits and starting salaries, other HR personnel, college co-op students and long-time NASA personnel were interviewed regarding continuing competitive salaries and various compensation packages offered by NASA compared to other companies.  Traditional compensation packages such as vacation time and yearly salary raises are offered by NASA and the aerospace contractors.  However stock options, bonuses, flextime, off campus working arrangements, support of continuing education and special in-house opportunities were limited or non-existent in some cases.  Child care opportunities are available on site at NASA but not provided for. One half of 1% of employees were recognized annually for excellence but not monetarily at NASA.  Special opportunities such as being invited to a launch or to other special events were noted as successful but rarely offered motivators (usually due to cost).

Funding

Congressional funding for NASA and the space program is seen as the one singularly most limiting factor. Funding has been steadily decreasing since the 1960ís.  This results in lower competitive starting salaries and lower competitive continuing salaries and fewer incentive packages due to limited budgets at NASA and at NASA dependent aerospace contractors.  While 1/3 of college co-ops turned down NASA offers initially this year, more NASA engineers are lost later in their careers when families responsibilities (homes and children) begin to outweigh personal loyalty to NASA and engineers who demonstrate excellence begin to be recruited away with more lucrative offers.

Significant lobbying this past year (1999) by contractors in Washington did lead to a small but significant increase in NASAís budget, which had been slated for another year of cuts. For example, for the first time in 7 years NASA-JSC has lifted the hiring freeze (for personnel other than college co-ops) and will be hiring about 150 new personnel.  The limited budget imposed by congress creates a continuous downward (or negative) pressure on both salaries and benefits.  Although many efforts have been made at NASA (including cost-cutting and consolidating contracts) at a certain point these efforts are ineffective.

Public Support

Interest in science and engineering affects both congressional funding for NASA (and subsequently it's dependent contractors) as well as the number of young people who choose to study engineering, receive degrees and enter the workforce.  According to the National Science Foundation, American adults express a high level of interest in new scientific discoveries and in the use of new inventions and technologies.  This level of interest has remained high for more than two decades and reached a new high point in 1997. Individuals with more years of formal education and more courses in science and mathematics are more likely to indicate a high level of interest in science and technology.

About one in five Americans think that they are very well-informed about new scientific discoveries and about the use of new inventions and technologies. Americans with more years of formal education and more courses in science and mathematics are significantly more likely to view themselves as very well-informed than others. Men are significantly more likely to indicate that they are very well-informed about science and technology, holding constant the level of formal education and the level of science and mathematics education. Only 27% of Americans understand the nature of scientific inquiry well enough to be able to make informed judgments about the scientific basis of results reported in the media.

Approximately 27 million Americans  (14 %) are attentive to science and technology policy issues, a level that has increased in recent years. In complex modern societies, it is not possible for citizens to become and remain informed about the full range of public policy areas. Some degree of issue specialization is inherent in industrial societies. Americans receive most of their information about public policy issues from television news programs and newspapers. 57% of Americans use a computer at home or at work. Computer use has increased steadily during the last decade. It is clear that the media and the internet are prime mechanisms for publicizing science and technology and it's value to the American public; to taxpayers and to young adults considering various careers.

Americans continue to hold the scientific community in high regard. According to the most recent General Social Survey, approximately 40% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the leadership of the scientific community and in the leadership of the medical community.  Despite their positive views of scientific research, Americans are deeply divided over the development and impact of several important technologies: nuclear power, genetic engineering, and space exploration. The general public is evenly divided over the relative benefits and costs of the space program. College graduates and those who are attentive to space exploration remain very positive toward the program. Comparatively, 70% of Americans expressed a high level of interest in medical discoveries and 52% indicated that they were very interested in environmental issues, but only 32% reported a high level of interest in space exploration (most likely due to the inability to see the relevance to their own lives).

Recommendations from NASA personnel interviewed regarding public relations avenues included the improvement and wider distribution of NASA television and it's programming, the inclusion of NASA materials in the public library system (not currently done), better advertising of open house facilities at all NASA centers, and the commercialization of the NASA Spinoff magazine (benefits from the space program in every day life on Earth).

Education Initiatives

In short, the U.S. faces an increasing shortage of engineers and other high-tech workers that will continue to cause repercussions for the U.S. economy and aerospace industry.  To assure a vital economic future for the U.S. we must encourage, prepare and sustain an educated technical workforce.  It appears that we are falling further behind:

(Sources-Information Technology Association of America, Texas A&M, Dallas Morning News, Texas Science and Technology Council)

When looking at the number of students in the education pipeline needed to fill the industry demand for technical workers the following statistics were identified:

(Sources-National Science Foundation, Dallas Morning News)

According to the National Science Foundation the number of Science and Engineering Degrees by state shows Texas to be about average compared to the rest of the country. Degrees conferred to Foreign Engineering students up to 1992 however shows a rise in Bachelors Degrees in engineering, and a much larger rise in Master's Degrees and Doctoral Degrees.

As reported in the Dallas Morning News industry demands for technology workers aren't being met because "many Texans lack the basic educational skills required to succeed in the technology work force". National tests show that Texas ranks under the national average for science and math. Forty-five percent of Texas' eighth-graders score below basic achievement levels for science, and only 24 percent are at or above the proficient level. Industry demands for technology workers also aren't being met by Texas' universities.  According to the National Science foundation the ratio of science and engineering degrees compared to first university degrees has declined from 21% in 1987 to 15% in 1995.  The number of bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering and computer science has remained flat for most of the decade. To address those problems, the Texas Science and Technology Council recommends that the state increase the number of high school students passing advance placement exams from 34,000 to 100,000 by 2002. The council also recommends that Texas community colleges, in collaboration with technology-based businesses, adopt a statewide basic technology curriculum. Industry-driven partnerships between community colleges and employers can help meet industry needs for a highly skilled technology work force.  By adopting such programs, the state can prepare students "so that Texas can remain a national and international technology leader".

In addition to interviewing HR personnel at Lockheed Martin and NASA/JSC, college co-op students and long-time NASA personnel were interviewed about various education initiatives in development at NASA and the aerospace contractor community.  Education initiatives between NASA and the contractors were seen to be generally focused primarily on teachers and not as much on students.  Recent JSC initiatives were seen in a positive light as first steps to encourage one-on-one mentoring with engineers and encouraging students across the state of Texas to consider careers in engineering and technology by using role modeling.

Group discussions by the Texas Space Leadership Council were held to develop an education strategy between NASA-JSC and the contractors Boeing, Lockheed, USA and Raytheon in order to focus efforts and not duplicate each other's programs.  The strategy that is emerging from these discussions is beginning to develop group consensus on what types of K-12 and educator focused programs could be developed.  Currently two strategies are being developed that will be presented to the Texas legislature for funding this coming year.  One is a program targeted at 5-8 grade students that involves a distance education program for interested middle school classrooms (self-contained in 5 & 6, and science classes in 7 & 8) in space science engineering that would culminate in an on site NASA visit or outreach event to the participating schools.  The other strategy is one aimed at junior colleges with the goal of providing internships and apprenticeships for students in these colleges at NASA and at aerospace contractors to provide experience and exposure for these rarely targeted students.

The report entitled, "Science and Engineering Education for the 1980s and Beyond" prepared by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education in response to a request by President Carter for information on the condition of science and engineering education in America contains data showing a decline in the general understanding of science and technology among secondary school students. Although scientific and technical literacy are increasingly necessary in our society, high school students are dropping out of science and mathematics courses after the tenth grade, resulting in a citizenry lacking understanding of the increasingly technically complex world.  Positive action is recommended so that all citizens have the scientific and technical understanding to participate in an increasingly complex society and so that technical and professional personnel remain on the cutting edge of scientific and technical progress.

According to the National Science Foundation, "Many countries, including the United States, recognize the importance of providing an excellent education to their population in a global, knowledge-based economy. At the professional level, universities in the United States and elsewhere face the challenge of introducing greater flexibility and breadth into their curricula so as to improve the employment prospects of their students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. More broadly, the nation as a whole faces the challenge of ensuring that its diverse workforce will possess sufficient technological literacy, and its citizenry sufficient knowledge and understanding of science and technology and its socioeconomic impacts, to address the requirements of a technologically competitive society."

Continuing Education

Another factor we pursued was the need for keeping engineers current in their field in order to remain competitive.  According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, "It is important for engineers, like those working in other technical occupations, to continue their education throughout their careers, because much of their value to their employer depends on their knowledge of the latest technology."  We reviewed the findings of a needs assessment done by the Clear Lake Aerospace Consortium provided by the Clear Lake Economic Development Foundation in 1998.  Two teams representing nine aerospace employers in the Clear Lake area surveyed 21aerospace employers.  The sample consisted of large, medium and small employers. The consortium consists of NASA-JSC, San Jacinto College, College of the Mainland, University of Houston Clear Lake, local ISD's and the Clear Lake Economic Foundation.  Their findings revealed a need for training to keep employees current in a technologically changing and competitive environment.  The survey identified potentially of 37,000 trainees in over 400 different topics over two years.  Course development by the universities in the consortium was directed to address the information gathered in this needs assessment.

Back to Table of Contents