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By Agnes Shanley, Editor in Chief
Yet, many of these graduates may not have the skill sets that industry needs. “There are thousands of people languishing in low-paid post-doc positions, receiving $25-30K/year after more than 10 years of college and training, because biotech companies will not hire them,” wrote Dave Jenson, a recruiter from CareerTrax, Inc. on the career forum of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (www.aaas.org) last spring.
“There is actually an overage, rather than a shortage, of scientists in the U.S.,” he continued. “However, there is a shortage of people who have industry experience. This is due to the fact that biopharma companies do…nothing to help the glut of academically-trained scientists make the transition to industry. They cry and moan about the need to find good people, and they even work closely with junior colleges and community colleges to help programs that turn out low-level factory workers for their manufacturing plants.” 
Is the gap so wide between university science curricula and industry needs? “Too many U.S. graduate students in science are being trained to be, and given the expectation that they will be, independent researchers in an academic setting,” Davis wrote in April. 
The typical career track for many science degree holders in biotech is to gain experience at a small company, then move on to larger firms. As Lonza CEO Stefan Borgas told an audience at BIO 2007 in Boston last month, biotech companies need to start building talent from within, rather than pillaging from other manufacturers.
Addressing the needs of manufacturing, he suggested that academics are being overemphasized at the expense of training that would lead to a “skilled and vocationally trained workforce” (Article, p. 13). “We need more of an interdisciplinary focus, and more attention to the business side, not just the science, in training,” agrees BIOCOM CEO Panetta.
Is a U.S. pharma workforce crisis in the making? “If you believe industry, which is lobbying to increase the quota for H-1B visas, the problem is pretty serious,” says Fuqua’s Lewin.
Others disagree, among them Lewin’s colleague Vivek Wadhwa, a former tech industry CEO who is now executive-in-residence at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. “This shortage is a myth,” he says, and in engineering, the only deficits are being seen in civil engineering (coincidentally, the lowest paid of all engineering tracks in the U.S.). At the same time, he points out, U.S. engineering and science salaries have remained flat or decreased over the past 10 years.
Wadhwa is sympathetic to insiders who complain of post-doc slavery. “When you pay them $25,000/year stipends, you simply make it uneconomical for the brightest U.S. students to pursue graduate studies.”
Is industry contributing to the downfall of U.S. competitiveness? Absolutely not, Wadhwa answers. “CEOs are doing what’s best for their companies, and shareholders would fire them for doing otherwise, because dealing with social issues is not their job,” he says, “but rather, the job of the government.”
He suggests government labs such as NSF and NIH treble post-doc salaries so that they more closely approximate industry salaries. “Even if the cost of doing that amounted to $1 billion/year, that would be a small price to pay for ensuring and increasing the nation’s future competitiveness.”
Wadhwa already sees chilling portents. For example, nearly one-quarter of all U.S. patents are now being filed by foreign nationals on temporary visas. The comparable figure for U.S. citizens abroad doesn’t even come close. As for foreign holders of H-1B visas, Wadhwa suggests a modest proposal: Let them have green cards.
Whatever the solution, the U.S. should act quickly. “Competitiveness won’t improve while we pretend there are shortages,” he says.
For anyone concerned about science education and skills shortages, few reports were more frightening than data published in 2005 comparing the 70,000 B.S. engineering degrees awarded in the U.S. with 600,000 in China and 350,000 in India (Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, November/December 2005, p. 9). Proposals called for increasing enrollments so that the U.S. would graduate 100,000 more U.S. engineers a year. This solution would only have led to a glut and lowered salaries further, as Wadhwa and his colleagues at Pratt and Duke’s Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness (CGGC) learned.
The Chinese government’s efforts to discourage “elitism” caused science and engineering enrollments to increase by 140% between 2001 and 2006, they discovered. As a result, the skill sets and training of many graduates counted as “engineers” in Chinese statistics are not on par with those of U.S. graduates. Although comparable figures aren’t available for pure science degrees, for engineering, adjusted numbers show relative parity, with the U.S. producing 750 engineers and IT professionals per million citizens, compared with 500 in China and 220 in India. 
But looking at the number of science and engineering degrees being awarded in the U.S. will not tell the whole story, Lewin says, because more international students on visas, who make up 60% of U.S. engineering Ph.D. students , are returning home to start their careers. This situation started to change about seven years ago, as economies began to develop and more foreign governments began to offer incentives for students to return home, Lewin says.
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