Closing the Geoscience Talent Gap

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The geosciences, like most technical professions, are facing a critical talent gap into the future, with too few new students entering the profession and too many opportunities for that supply.  This situation has evolved as a result of multiple forces, including increased commodity prices, greater strain on water resources, development encroachment on hazardous terrain, and the attrition of Baby Boomers from the workforce.  Demand is not the only issue at hand, the legacy of lagging supplies of new students and consequently new professionals has enhanced the problem.   The supply issue is a result of the fallout from the 1986 oil bust and the unsubstantiated hopes for an environmental boom in the 1990’s, coupled by the lengthening of academic careers, indefinitely delaying the predicted exodus of faculty.   All of these issues are evident in the data collected by AGI, its Member Societies, and the federal government.

Two new factors are beginning to play an increased role in the success or failure of geosciences programs: namely student attitudes towards careers and the ability for departments to successfully bridge the demands of the incoming student with the requirements for an individual to succeed in the profession.  An issue often lost for geosciences departments is that 95% of geoscientists in the United States work in the private sector or for government agencies, and that those employers drive the profession forward in the long term.

Departments that manage to balance the student needs with an end source of gainful employment are witnessing great success and growth.  Currently, programs with strong roots in mining, petroleum, and groundwater hydrology are booming, as are graduate programs with strong technology components.  The challenge is recognizing the booms, busts, and long-term trends and positioning programs to weather the changes yet retain the core of their program.  This level of planning coupled with a profession-wide effort to improve initial recruitment, greater throughput of graduates into the profession, and the development of professionalism for majors will be central to the geosciences future success.

  • Christopher Keane*
  • American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2007