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Losing our edge in science and innovation?

Jan 18, 2012
Carter Wood

The National Science Board released a new report Tuesday, "Science and Engineering Indicators 2012," that found the United States slipping in comparison to Asian countries in "knowledge-intensive economies." Its findings echo many of the warnings about U.S. competitiveness, education and innovation found in another report issued Tuesday, that of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, "Road Map to Renewal."

From the NSB's news release:

The United States remains the global leader in supporting science and technology (S&T) research and development, but only by a slim margin that could soon be overtaken by rapidly increasing Asian investments in knowledge-intensive economies. So suggest trends released in a new report by the National Science Board (NSB), the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation (NSF), on the overall status of the science, engineering and technology workforce, education efforts and economic activity in the United States and abroad.

"This information clearly shows we must re-examine long-held assumptions about the global dominance of the American science and technology enterprise," said NSF Director Subra Suresh of the findings in the Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 released today. "And we must take seriously new strategies for education, workforce development and innovation in order for the United States to retain its international leadership position," he said.

The Jobs Council had a section entitled, "Prepare the American Workforce to Compete in the Global Economy," that examined, among other issues, U.S. shortcomings in STEM education -- science, technology, education and math. In a relate news release, Ellen Kullman, Chair and CEO of DuPont, explained the recommendations. From "Closing the Skills Gap Critical for American Competitiveness, DuPont Chair & CEO Reports."

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- A concerted national effort to close the widening gap between the skills needed in the U.S. workplace and the skills being produced by its education and worker training systems is critical to continued U.S. competitiveness, DuPont Chair and CEO Ellen Kullman told U.S. President Barack Obama and fellow members of the President's Jobs and Competitiveness Council today. Kullman and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg co-authored the education section of the final Jobs Council report.

"American ingenuity has given the world some of the greatest scientific and technological inventions - from the light bulb to nylon to the Internet," Kullman said. "The U.S. economy has traditionally been an engine of innovation, fueled by a highly skilled workforce and generating technologies and products sold around the world. Today, that American innovation and competitiveness is at risk. As the skills required in the 21st century workplace grow ever more technical and complex, our education and worker training systems are not keeping pace. In fact, in many areas we seem to be losing ground. Companies are struggling to fill available jobs with skilled workers even while Americans are unemployed. We can and must ensure we provide our citizens the education and skills to compete in the global economy and ensure U.S. companies have a skilled workforce. In this report we lay out a roadmap for excellence.

(Bonus reading, Delaware Online, "DuPont thriving with CEO Kullman at helm.")

The NSB report also looked at global competition over advanced manufacturing, the (sexier and more debatable) angle picked up by The Washington Post, "U.S. losing high-tech manufacturing jobs to Asia." The Posted noted several stats, including that the number of doctoral degrees in engineering awarded in China has more than doubled, now exceding the number awarded in the United States, and that the number of research workers for U.S.-based multinationals working overseas has more than doubled. Still:

Wages in China have been growing rapidly, lessening their advantage over those in the United States. Moreover, increasing automation in the United States is lowering labor costs. Finally, analysts said, U.S. workers are far more productive.

“When you add all this up together, there’s a lot of opportunity in the U.S.,” said Eric Spiegel, chief executive of Siemens, which has 65,000 employees and 137 manufacturing plants in the United States. “There’s still more skilled labor here than anywhere else in the world.”

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