Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quick Report on the NBER Conference on the Engineering Workforce

It went well. Both my presentations went smoothly. The first one on our chapter focused a ton on the demand-side issues (lots of discussion - they wouldn't let me get to the supply piece!), which was fine because I mostly presented the supply material to the group last October. The second presentation was on the debate over whether we have had major "shortages" of engineers (I say no). It was shorter than I would have liked and a little birds-eye-view, but I was asked to put it together at the last minute so that's how it goes. The message still went over well. We have several non-economists working on the book, so I think the simple model I presented for thinking about how the way people talk about "shortages" fits with the way economists think this market operates (lagged adjustments, etc.) really clarified things. The problem with this debate is that you'll hear a lot of people use "shortage" to mean many different things. Bill Gates talks about it when he's basically referring to wanting to move along the demand curve. Other people use it to talk about some sort of inadequacy of demand (this, I think, is a more legitimate although still not quite right use of the term). It's a big jumble. My view was very well received, which was good.

Another interesting tid-bit: I was told that the conference room where we were holding the meeting was the same room where Larry Summers offered his own thoughts on women in science and engineering. I am happy to report that my thoughts on the issue had a much better reception than his did.

The other important thing is that Hal Salzman (my co-author on the trends overview chapter), is adding me as an author on his current chapter on petroleum engineering. I've been doing a lot of the analysis for the paper, so that's nice. But it's also one of the more fascinating chapters in the book. He is looking at a very steep run-up in the salaries of petroleum engineers due to a variety of factors in the oil and gas markets. So it's a good clean labor market demand shock that we're using to look at the supply response. We have a lot of wage and graduation data together now (and the response in graduations for petroleum engineers is phenomenal). What we need to do is calculate some elasticities, which I think I should be able to help him out with. It's just one of those nice clean discontinuities that economists love to use. It's a very good chapter, and I'm glad I'll be able to put my stamp on it.


  1. Glad to hear that things went down well in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Out of curiosity, who is editing the anthology you are contributing to?

  2. Richard Freeman (Harvard, economics) and Hal Salzman (Rutgers, public policy and planning). Hal is my co-author on the chapters, and he's responsible for pulling me in (he used to be at the Urban Institute with me). It will be jointly published by NBER and Chicago University Press some time in 2012.

  3. An interesting fact I learned about Freeman while I was there: his advisor was John Dunlop - the same Dunlop that schooled Keynes on real wage cyclicality in the late 30s - very, very early in Dunlop's own career.

    Keynes was true to his dictum that "when the facts change I change my mind", and conceded the point to the young economist (I think Dunlop had just gotten his PhD that year).


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.