Is the Next Generation Technophobic?

By Nicholas Donofrio  |  Posted 2002-02-19 Print this article Print

Today's generation has the opportunity to take technology to the next level in fields such as bioinformatics, autonomic systems, nanotechnology and quantum computing. Yet somehow, young people aren't picking up this excitement about technology. Too often

National Engineers Week starts Feb. 17. If you hadnt planned on participating in outreach activities, I urge you to reconsider. We all have a stake in reversing the skills shortage in science and engineering, and were also the best-suited to inspire young people to pursue careers in those disciplines. Ive often thought how lucky Ive been to experience the torrent of exponential improvements in information technologies during my 35-year career at IBM. But the advances Ive seen pale in comparison with whats coming. Todays generation has the opportunity to take technology to the next level in fields such as bioinformatics, autonomic systems, nanotechnology and quantum computing. Yet somehow, young people arent picking up this excitement about technology. Too often theyre averse to math and science from grade school on.
Even during the downturn, all kinds of companies are feeling the pinch of the skills shortage. Projections from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation are that well need about 1.3 million more IT professionals by 2006. Thats about 137,000 new workers every year.
Today, enrollment in science and engineering degrees is rising, but this represents an ongoing recovery from the sharp declines in both undergraduate and graduate studies of the past decade. And, for the first time, sizable declines in graduate enrollments are no longer being offset by the influx of international students, according to a recent report by researchers Eleanor L. Babco and William Zumeta. Nor are women and minorities filling the skills gap. They continue to be grossly underrepresented in careers in science and engineering. Although women constitute 46 percent of the U.S. work force, they hold only 12 percent of science and engineering jobs, according to a recent study by the National Council for Research on Women. Taken together, African Americans and Hispanics make up only 6 percent of the 2 million scientists and engineers in the United States, according to an NSF study published in 2000. What can you do to help? Join the more than 50,000 volunteers wholl visit classrooms around the country this year as part of National Engineers Week. Last year, IBM established "Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day" as a special event during N.E.W. to focus outreach on girls. The goal this year is to reach 1 million girls. To make yours a year-round effort, consider funding educational grants and programs for K-12 grades that broaden the uses of technology in the classroom. Make diversity in the work force an imperative. Companies that already have internal support networks focused on retaining women and minority hires can get even better results by designating a team to spread experience gained across the company. Support national advocacy, research and policy organizations working to redress the under-representation of women and minorities. These groups need funding, but most of all they need volunteers. IBM employees find it richly rewarding to serve as e-mail correspondents for MentorNet, an online mentoring network that pairs women who are studying science and engineering with working professionals. Does this kind of outreach work? When researchers at Carnegie Mellon University initiated a study of gender imbalance that included classroom techniques specifically designed to support female as well as male students, enrollment in the School of Computer Science jumped from 8 percent in 1995 to 42 percent in 2000. Paying attention to the problem, and taking it personally, are sure to help. Nicholas Donofrio is IBM senior vice president, Technology and Manufacturing. He can be reached at

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