Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Sen. Kaufman Speaks on the Importance of STEM Jobs for the Future

August 2, 2010

Mr. President, there is no doubt we stand at a critical moment in history. I am honored to be a Senator at this time in our history but even more so to be an engineer Senator. I believe the key to the future of our country and the world rests on the ability of the United States to use STEM--science, technology, engineering, and math--to solve the major problems we face.

You can work on an issue in the shadows for decades and then suddenly the Sun breaks through and it is shining on you and it is shining very brightly. This is one of those moments for engineers, in particular for the promotion of STEM education.

Today, America's engineers have a central role to play in developing the innovative technologies that will help our economy recover and promote real job growth. In particular, as the global economy turns increasingly competitive, many nations are investing heavily in training their future scientists and engineers. We have to do the same.

We do not know from where the next generation of innovation will come. That is the very nature of innovation. But we do know the problems we face. We do know our central economic challenge. When we get through this crisis--and we will--when this recession has passed, we need to create new jobs. It is not enough to try to win back the jobs we have lost. To keep pace with our population and to keep the sacred promise to our children and grandchildren, we need to create a whole new generation of jobs.

As former President Bill Clinton has said, in recent years, we were creating jobs in three areas: housing, finance, and the consumer economy. All three of those benefited from loose credit and easy money to build up a bubble. All three of those have suffered in this economy.

I am very sorry to say that many of those jobs are not going to be coming back. We cannot look forward to the day where carpenters are scarce because we built more houses than people could afford to buy. We do not need a revitalized legion of clever bankers any more than we need another Starbucks 1 block closer.

So where will tomorrow's jobs come from? I believe the answer lies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM jobs will be, and must be, the jobs of the future. Whether it is energy independence, global health, homeland security or infrastructure challenges, STEM professionals will be at the forefront of the most important issues of our time.

In 2008, the National Academy of Engineering convened a panel of technology and engineering leaders to create a list of ``Grand Challenges for Engineering.'' The group included innovators from the private, public, and academic sectors with a wide range of expertise and experience. Eighteen committee members, including such well-known names as Google founder Larry Page and Segway inventor Dean Kamen, set to work to identify engineering challenges--both problems and opportunities--facing those born at the dawn of the 21st century.

After considering ideas and input from experts and the broader general public, 14 Grand Challenges were identified, some of which include: making solar energy economical, providing energy from fusion, providing access to clean water, restoring and improving urban infrastructure, engineering better medicines, preventing nuclear terror, and securing cyberspace.

Clearly, we will need STEM-educated professionals to address these Grand Challenges. In fact, according to a new study released by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2018, STEM occupations are projected to provide 2.8 million new hires. This includes over 500,000 engineering-related jobs.

So where will these STEM jobs be? What kind of work will be taking place in these jobs? The answer encompasses a myriad of locations, opportunities, skills, and subject knowledge. The following are just a few examples of what these jobs might look like.

STEM graduates can go into the biomedical fields. In the United States alone, nearly 1 out of 25 people has a history of cancer and 1 out of 13 people has diabetes. Finding scientific solutions to make health care more efficient, both in treatment and in cost, is essential for the health of our people and our economy.

This entails creating personalized medicines tailored to a patient's genetic makeup, processes to quickly and cheaply screen for diseases, materials and techniques to make surgeries and treatments less invasive, biomaterials to aid in the repair of damaged body tissues, and new strategies to overcome multiple drug resistances. Biomedical and materials engineers, as well as scientists with skills in chemistry and genetics, will be needed to tackle these issues.

STEM graduates can pursue jobs in clean energy fields, such as solar energy. Currently, solar energy's share of the total energy market is small--below 1 percent of total energy consumption. It is estimated by 2030, however, that solar electricity has the potential to satisfy the electricity needs of almost 14 percent of the world's population.

To get there, scientists and engineers will need to help us overcome the various practical and economic barriers to widespread solar power usage. This will require new technologies to capture the Sun's energy, to convert it to useful forms, and to store it for use when sunlight is unavailable. Electrical and computer engineers will be needed to lead the way and, indeed, in Delaware, my home State, they already are.

A consortium lead by engineers from the University of Delaware achieved a recordbreaking solar cell efficiency of 42.8 percent. Solar cells, as you know, convert the Sun's energy into electricity. This is a major achievement in the development of low-cost solar systems, and we will need many more of its kind.

STEM graduates can find jobs updating our Nation's infrastructure. Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers rated the U.S. infrastructure as a D. This is unacceptable, unsustainable, and unsafe.

We need chemical and civil engineers to design, construct, and maintain streets, sidewalks, public transit, water supply networks, sewers, street lighting, waste management, public parks, and bicycle paths, just to name a few.

Professionals working on our Nation's infrastructure will also need skills in physics, electrical engineering, and urban planning. This is no small feat and will require the dedication of many new engineers. In fact, among engineering fields, civil engineering is expected to see the largest growth through 2018.

STEM graduates can help protect us from security threats. Plutonium or highly enriched uranium is used to build nuclear weapons. Vast quantities of this fissile material exists in the world today, some of it still unaccounted for, even though 260 tons of it has been secured over the last two decades under the Nunn-Lugar program. It takes less than 10 kilograms of plutonium or around 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon, and several terrorist organizations have demonstrated interest in acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Consequently, we need nuclear engineers to determine how to secure these dangerous materials, detect nuclear threats at a distance, disarm potential devices, and respond and clean up after any explosion. Technical skills, in addition to various engineering skills, will be necessary to solve each of these dilemmas.

These are just a handful of the exciting and important job profiles that will be available to our Nation's STEM graduates. We will also need environmental engineers to provide access to clean water, mechanical and aerospace engineers to update our transportation methods, agricultural engineers to help tackle world hunger, and much more. All the surveys today say that young people want to ``make a difference'' with their lives, and certainly these STEM jobs will. But beyond the opportunity to make a difference, STEM graduates will also earn high salaries postgraduation. During our current economic times, this is no small incentive.

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, STEM majors account for the top five highest earning bachelor's degrees of those graduating in 2010. Specifically, engineering degrees accounted for four of the five most highly paid bachelor's degrees. Starting salaries for these graduates are between $60,000 and $75,000 per year.

Yet despite the various incentives, we are already behind in the number of scientists and engineers we will need to educate in order to fill the jobs of the future.

Between 1985 and 2007, the number of individuals receiving engineering bachelor's degrees fell by nearly 10,000. This precipitous decline occurred at the same time that the total number of undergraduate degrees rose by one-half million.

Moreover, employers are having a difficult time filling available engineering positions. Raytheon CEO William Swanson recently told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that he plans to hire 4,500 engineers this year, but he finds it harder and harder to find them.

This trend must be reversed. Fortunately, organizations such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education are working to ``prime the pump'' for the next generation of STEM professionals. To promote and improve K-12 STEM education, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers is fostering partnerships with educational groups such as the First Robotics Competition, the Junior Engineering Technical Society, Project Lead the Way, and the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. The American Society for Engineering Education has a publication called ``Engineering, Go For It,'' aimed at inspiring students, particularly girls and underrepresented minorities, to pursue an engineering career. They also administer a number of undergraduate and graduate fellowship and internship programs, including several sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.

This type of organizational support is critical to ensuring that students across the country have access to quality STEM opportunities in K-12 education and beyond.

In my remaining time in the Senate, I will continue to encourage my colleagues in Washington to invest in STEM education. It is true we have our partisan problems in Washington these days, but I believe there is bipartisan consensus on the value of promoting STEM education.

Support for STEM education is essential for our economic growth and recovery. It is the future of our workforce. It is our children's and our grandchildren's future.

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