During a recent conversation with computer scientist Ed Lazowska of the University of Washington, Seattle, he alerted Science Careers to a very impressive analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) looking into trends for science-related jobs and predictions for job growth between the present and 2020.
These are only projections, and job-market projections are generally not to be trusted. Yet, these come from an authoritative source, and the trends are hardly subtle. Here's an image Lazowska put together from the BLS projections, reproduced here with permission:
"All other S&T fields pale by comparison." —PCAST
That's right: According to BLS, 62% of the growth in jobs in science-related fields will be in computer science. That's more than 750, 000 new jobs, and a total of more than 1, 350, 000 job openings. How does that compare with the number of degrees likely to be granted by U.S. institutions? In 2009, those institutions granted something like 95, 000 computer science degrees, including about 32, 000 associate's degrees and fewer than 1600 Ph.D.s. Over 10 years, that adds up to more than the number of new jobs that BLS expects will be added, but significantly fewer than the number of job openings.
It's when you compare these numbers to other fields that you realize how much better prospects are likely to be in computer science. Consider that in the physical sciences, for example, BLS predicts that fewer than 36, 000 new jobs will be created—a 3% increase. Counting replacements, BLS predicts 121, 900 openings in all fields of physical science, at all degree levels, before 2020. According to the National Science Foundation, about 27, 000 people were granted degrees in the physical sciences in 2009, at all degree levels, including associate's degrees. Multiply that by 10 and compare. You'll quickly see that supply is predicted to surpass demand.
What about the other fields? Engineering jobs are projected to grow by 14%. The growth in jobs in all other categories ranges from 1% (math) to 5% (social science and life science). The BLS chart, Lazowska explains, is "misleading, in that it only looks at BLS categories 15, 17, and 19—health sciences are not included. And it's all jobs, not just Ph.D. jobs."
Lazowska notes that the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) examined similar data from 2 years earlier and produced a report, signed by John P. Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute; Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and Eric Schmidt, executive chair (and former CEO) at Google, that reached the following conclusions:
"Finding: All indicators—all historical data, and all projections—argue that [computer science] is the dominant factor in America's science and technology employment, and that the gap between the demand for [computer science] talent and the supply of that talent is and will remain large.
While there will be inevitable variations in demand for every field, the long-term prospects for employment in [computer science] occupations in the United States are exceedingly strong. All other S&T fields pale by comparison."
(Lazowska points out that PCAST uses "NIT, " short for "networking and information technology, " instead of "computer science"—hence the square brackets.)
A major variable, of course, is immigration policy, because internationally, more than enough degrees are granted to fill the predicted openings in the United States.