Persistently high employment by U.S. standards – upward of 9 percent – figures as a prominent issue for politicians of every stripe seeking to gain or hold political office in the 2012 election.
Perhaps you’ve had the good fortune of avoiding the campaign advertisements thus far. Enjoy the quiet. They are coming, and the mantra is jobs, jobs, jobs.
“Energy, Jobs & the Economy: Powering America’s Future,” a report issued in June by the Consumer Energy Alliance highlights the vital role that the energy sector plays in the economy and job creation.
“[T]he lack of a national energy policy has severe consequences for the economy now and in the future – costing hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in lost revenues … hurdles to domestic energy production could result in the loss of over 500,000 existing or potential jobs,” CEA writes.
Better understanding the opportunities and challenges to creating and filling these jobs is the subject of a new study under way at the National Research Council (NRC), the operating arm of the U.S. National Academies, titled “Emerging Work Force Trends in the U.S. Energy and Mining Industries.”
The study was made possible thanks to strong congressional support led by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) and funding provided by the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.
It will analyze:
- The need for and availability of workers for the oil, natural gas, coal, geologic carbon sequestration, nuclear, geothermal, solar, wind and non-fuel minerals industries.
- The availability of skilled labor at both entry level and more senior levels.
- Recommendations for actions needed to meet future labor requirements.
AAPG members Sally Benson, Joel Renner and Reginal Spiller all are members of the study committee.
One of the information sources the NRC committee undoubtedly will be reviewing is the recently issued “Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2011,” authored by Leila Gonzalez and AAPG member Chris Keane of the American Geological Institute’s (AGI) work force program. Using data collected independently – along with available federal, industry and professional society sources – the report provides a broad survey of trends, education and jobs across the geosciences.
Earth science education in primary and secondary schools (kindergarten through high school) remains a challenge: In high school only three states – Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina – require earth science coursework for graduation, and in 12 other states earth science credit counts toward graduation.
The lack of an Advanced Placement (AP) or honors course in geology further restricts the exposure students have to the geosciences as a possible course of study in college.
In response, university geoscience departments have developed targeted outreach programs to high school students. As a result, the study finds, these departments are “making progress in filling the gap caused by the lack of an AP geology course, increasing geosciences enrollments at the undergraduate level, and building community awareness of the importance of the geosciences.”
This is having a positive impact on the number of geosciences degrees conferred in the United States – bachelor’s degrees were up 7 percent in 2009-10 over the previous year, and master’s and doctoral degrees were up 3 percent and 6 percent, respectively.
That is good news, but it’s not enough.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there were more than 260,000 geoscience jobs in 2008. The demand for geoscience jobs will grow 35 percent by 2018, according to AGI estimates, when they factor both job growth and normal work force attrition.
That’s more than 350,000 geoscience jobs in 2018 – yet, only 1,500 geoscience graduate degrees are conferred each year in the United States, leaving a significant shortfall in the available domestic labor pool.
This shortage is evident in the oil and gas sector, despite the typically higher salaries than in other geoscience sectors. For oil and gas, “the number of younger geoscientists in their early 30s is approximately half the number of those nearing retirement age.”
The situation is even worse in the government sector.
“The demographic wave that the oil and gas industry sees looming on the horizon is already crashing over the federal scientific work force,” said Chris Keane, who is AGI’s technology and communications director.
There is no shortage of societal needs requiring geoscience professionals, the study notes. But there has been a consistent shortage of skilled workers to meet these needs – and this shortage undermines both “public awareness of the profession as well as [in] investment in geoscience education.”
One essential ingredient to maintaining a strong geoscience work force is investment in research and development, which is a principal driver of science and technology employment. The federal geoscience R&D investment has shrunk since 2004, the study finds.
That is yet another compelling reason for us to highlight the need for geoscience R&D, and especially a robust federal oil and natural gas R&D program.