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Editorial: A job war in the sciences

You don’t have to look through many newspaper headlines to see how the job market is going in North Carolina.
Stanley Furniture is eliminating 350 more jobs as it closes a Lexington plant, bringing Davidson County’s furniture industry job losses since 2001 to nearly 5,000.
Meanwhile, over in the Research Triangle Park, drug-testing companies are hiring, hiring, hiring ó and competing for a small pool of qualified workers. “It’s a war for talent,” one recruiter told the News & Observer.
Such ups and downs go beyond North Carolina ó old news, except that the trend keeps manifesting itself month after month. The nation lost 62,000 jobs in June, with the hardest blows coming in the manufacturing, construction, financial and retail sectors. But if you have advanced training for science and technology, the world is your oyster ó at least for now. College students wavering between the liberal arts and a scientific field can take a tip from this Science Magazine headline: “Joining a Trend, Scientists Increasingly Say ‘Call My Agent.’ ”
That may be overstating the case, but scientists are certainly in demand. Aging baby boomers’ need for drugs has put the pharmaceutical industry in particular into overdrive. Drug companies are racing to develop new medicines, many employing contract research organizations to conduct clinical trials and do other testing. That’s where the jobs are now in the Triangle area. With biotechnology research taking root in Kannapolis, jobs centered around the same type of skills will soon grow here.
For several years, unfortunately, No Child Left Behind’s heavy emphasis on math and reading pushed science and other subjects into the background in elementary schools, and put students in catch-up mode when they reach high school. Rowan-Salisbury high schools have responded to the changing job scene by adding courses like biomedical technology and introduction to biotechnology. Science education is equally important for elementary school students. Young potential scientists need encouragement and opportunity.
Of course, the only constant is change. The drug companies and others who need scientists could take all their contract research work overseas eventually. For now, though, a high school diploma and higher education or training in a scientific field looks promising ó a lot more promising than learning how to craft furniture or weave towels.

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