Technical Worker Shortage and Nuclear Energy

In my last blog post, I discussed the fact that American young people scored significantly lower in the areas of math, science, and reading than their foreign counterparts on the 2009 PISA test. In my opinion, this shortfall in achievement will eventually lead to a shortage of qualified workers for high-technology companies in this country.

I was interested to read an article in last week’s San Diego Union-Tribune stating that the shortage in qualified technology professionals is already here, at least in San Diego. According to the article, a recent survey conducted by the San Diego Software Industry Council found that there are currently about 6,000 information-technology job openings in San Diego County. In addition, according to Connect, there are about 2,000 current job openings in mechanical and electrical engineering.

Where are the thousands of San Diegans needed to fill these jobs? And if they are not available now, how will we ensure they are available to fill these jobs in the future?

My concern is twofold. San Diego high-tech companies are not working at their capacity because they don’t have the people they need to do the work that needs to be done. If this situation goes on for a prolonged period of time, the companies will either find qualified employees elsewhere, or they will simply leave San Diego. This will have a long-lasting negative impact on our economy, and on the region’s future.

In other news, I was pleased to see that the Obama administration’s 2012 budget proposal includes $853 million for nuclear energy, including the development of small modular reactors that will be significantly less expensive to manufacture and much easier to deploy than conventional reactors. I am a fan of significantly increasing our use of nuclear energy to break our dependence on foreign sources of fuel, while reducing the production of greenhouse gases.

In addition, Obama proposed $2 billion for the Department of Energy to support basic energy sciences in hopes of discovering new ways to produce, store, and use energy. Increasingly, the private sector is moving away from basic research, instead focusing on the kinds of development that lead to more-immediate financial returns. As a percentage of gross domestic product, federal funding of research and development has also declined. The amount of federal funds devoted to R&D as a percentage of gross domestic product is only 60% what it was in the 1960s.

While Obama’s proposed amounts for basic and nuclear energy research at the Department of Energy will be a tough sell in this difficult budget year, I am convinced it is an investment that will pay long-term dividends for our country. One day we will run out of fossil fuels, so we must be prepared for that day when it comes.

Thank you for keeping in touch. I enjoy reading your messages. Don’t hesitate to write to me on any subject. I am more than happy to respond.

— Bob