SAGE Musings: 2018 Report on the Status of the Geoscience Workforce

Carol Ormand, SERC, Carleton College
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published Apr 4, 2019 9:50am

About a decade ago, the American Geosciences Institute began publishing reports on the status of the geoscience workforce. This year's report, authored by Carolyn Wilson, is a detailed summary of trends in geoscience education and employment, with information compiled from primary data collected by AGI and from the US Government, the geoscience industry, and professional societies. If you are looking for information on the current state of the geoscience workforce and projections of geoscience employment opportunities in the near future, the 2018 Report on the Status of the Geoscience Workforce is a wealth of information. There are three topics in this year's report that I think will be of high interest to everyone involved in the SAGE 2YC project: trends in two-year college geoscience programs; trends in geoscience employment, including salary projections; and demographic data on the geoscience workforce.

Trends in two-year college geoscience programs

According to the report (Wilson, 2019), only about one in five 2YCs in the US – or more accurately, 327 out of 1579 (p. 22) -- offer geoscience programs or courses, and at many of these institutions there are only one or two faculty members teaching geoscience. In fact, there is only one geoscience faculty member at 28% of those schools (p. 22). However, 2YC geoscience faculty report a growing interest in geoscience careers among their students. Moreover, "In the geosciences, in 2017, 27% of bachelor's graduates, 26% of master's graduates, and 14% of doctoral graduates spent at least one semester at a two-year college" (p. 27).

The population of students earning geoscience associate's degrees is more diverse than the current geoscience workforce (see below), but is less diverse than the population of the US overall. "Of the geoscience associate's degrees awarded in 2016, 45% were awarded to women and 12% were awarded to underrepresented minorities" (p. 29). Figures 3.11 and 3.12 in the report (p. 30) illustrate how the population of students earning associate's degrees in geosciences compares to the population of students earning associate's degrees in other STEM disciplines. Spoiler alert: if you care about equity, these graphs will not spark joy.

Geoscience workforce demographics

"The racial and ethnic diversity of geoscience graduates at all degree levels continues to be the lowest among science and engineering fields" (p. ii), and this translates into underrepresentation in the geoscience workforce, as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 underrepresented minorities comprised only 10% of the US geoscience workforce (p. 115). Figure 5.38 (p. 118), gives us a more detailed look at the specific racial and ethnic composition of various geoscience professions.

Similarly, although "[f]emale representation within the geoscience workforce has been steadily increasing each year," in 2017, only "35% of environmental scientists and geoscientists were women" (p. iii). Gender disparities also show up in our academic departments, with only 21% of 4YCU geoscience faculty and only 31% of 2YC geoscience faculty being female (p. 22).

Employment opportunities and salaries

Figure 5.30 (p. 113) illustrates the median annual salaries of eleven different geoscience occupations, over the decade from 2007-2017. Although these salaries vary enormously depending on specific occupation, every geoscience occupation has a median salary that is higher than the overall average salary in the United States (p. 113-114).

The section of the report that focuses on geoscience employment projections starts on p. 128, and I encourage everyone to take a look at it. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting an 11% growth in geoscience jobs from 2016 to 2026, with all sectors of the geoscience workforce experiencing growth, except for the mining industry (p. 128). Moreover, they predict a loss of 48% of the existing workforce due to retirement (p. iii). Table 5.1 (p. 130-139) shows the predicted number of specific jobs within the geoscience industry, the specific growth that number represents, and the 2016 median salary for each specific job.

How does your geoscience program compare to national trends? Do your students know what the geoscience job market looks like? Do they know what geoscientists earn?


Wilson, 2019. 2018 Report on the Status of the Geoscience Workforce. Published by the American Geosciences Institute, 178 pp.

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