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7. Geoscience Workforce and Education

Who will do the work to understand Earth processes and meet demands for resources and resiliency? Who will educate the public and train the workforce? The geoscience community provides the knowledge, experience and ingenuity to meet society's demands for natural resources, environmental quality and resilience from hazards. Here we outline the critical geoscience workforce and education needs of the nation and the world at the outset of the twenty first century and provide policy guidance to grow the economy while sustaining the Earth system.

What Is The Need?
What Are The Policy Recommendations?
Additional Resources
What Is The Need?

More people are needed for a geoscience-based workforce now and in the future (Figure 9). A geoscience-based workforce includes technicians, professional geoscientists, professional engineers, research and development managers, exploration managers, data managers, applied researchers, basic researchers and educators at all levels. Such a workforce needs a knowledge and understanding of the Earth system and Earth processes, computational and analytical skills, a sense of discovery and adventure and strong problem-solving traits. In addition, this workforce is critical for teaching the next generation of workers, based on their sound understanding of geoscientific concepts and their work experience.

The growth of a U.S.-based geoscience workforce and an educated public begins with the formal and informal education of the nation’s children. According to State Indicators of Science and Mathematics Education 2001, published by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), less than 7% (about 860,000) of 13 million high school students took a high-school Earth science course in 2000. That percentage has declined since then as high school students take even fewer science courses in general and more high schools have eliminated Earth science classes. In addition the tens of thousands of Earth science teachers in K-12 grade levels have received little to no training in the geosciences during their formal education careers and must try to pick up some expertise through summer workshops and other opportunities. Renewed emphasis on student and teacher education in the Earth sciences would help to provide the U.S. geoscience workforce of the future and help the nation deal with the critical issues outlined above.


Figure 9: Data collected and collated by the American Geological Institute shows the decline in geoscience degrees granted (top) and the associated smaller pool of new geoscience faculty at U.S. institutions as of 2006 (opposite). The public and private sectors face the same dilemma of an aging workforce and a limited number of skilled new workers educated in the U.S. to fill the growing gaps.

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

Geoscience Workforce and Education: Given the critical need for a skilled geoscience workforce and more robust geoscience education, the geoscience community suggests the following national policy directions.

  • Support inquiry-based education in geoscience for K-12 grade levels.
    • Include geoscience as a core course in middle school and high school. 
    • Increase the rigor of geoscience courses and establish an Earth Science Advanced Placement class.
  • Support public outreach and informal education through specifically funded programs in geoscience at national parks, museums and other public venues.
  • Support geoscientists teaching in schools and encourage the Department of Education to recognize and support the importance of learning geosciences at the K-12 level.
  • Conduct an assessment of the geoscience workforce to determine specific needs and concerns.
  • Provide greater support for scholarships, grants and fellowships for students majoring in geoscience at undergraduate and graduate levels (e.g. re-instate geological sciences in the Department of Education’s graduate assistantship grants for the program “Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need”).
  • Provide more scholarships, grants and fellowships for students majoring in education with an emphasis on science teaching.
  • Increase incentives for student-teachers in their formal training to take geoscience courses as a requirement for teaching degrees.
  • Provide incentives for teachers to gain additional geoscience training as a requirement for certification and advancement during their teaching careers.


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Additional Resources

Links to references, supplementary, and/or updated information.

Full Report (PDF)

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With a burgeoning human population, rising demand for natural resources and a changing climate, it is critical to more fully integrate Earth observations and Earth system understanding into actions for a sustainable world.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted on July 7, 2009; Last Updated on September 22, 2009


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