Environmental Scan and Internal Data

The WMP EC and subcommittees (hereafter WMP Committee) organized a large data gathering effort (internal and external) in an attempt to identify trends, best practices, and areas where discussions should be focused. The survey included research, data collection and analysis, surveys, forums, and self-assessments. The WMP Committee identified the following sources and types of data as being important for input:

Internal External
Human Resources data and charts Peer institution survey results and summary
UCAR and NCAR policies and procedures Detailed data from peer institutions

Institutional metrics 

Web research on policies, procedures,
practices, and source documents

Survey/discussion with
directors and administrators

Diversity data
Workplace Climate Survey  
 Diversity data  

 

Critical aspects of this study were a survey of peer research centers and universities, and Web research on their policies, procedures, and practices. Representatives from UCAR, NCAR, and the UCAR Board of Trustees interviewed the leaders of 16 peer institutions ranging from universities (5) to nonprofits (2) and national and international government/research centers or labs (9).

The external survey revealed a wide variety of workforce policies and practices in areas such as salaries and benefits, diversity efforts, annual performance reviews, promotions, tenure or tenure-like policies, base and outside funding practices, and visitor programs. For example, some research institutes have a tenure-like system while others do not. Almost all of the centers/universities were clear about the percentage of time that should be devoted to research, teaching, and service. Some centers enforce strict limits on the number of tenured/secured positions. There appeared to be a wide spectrum of practices for annual performance reviews. Support staff were either externally funded, supported by the organization, or shared by the scientific/technical staff through a “pool” system. Approximately half of the organizations surveyed have implemented formal mentoring programs. The others simply assign senior staff to employees or support ad hoc programs. Most of the institutions had crafted a formal diversity plan, but a few had no such plans.

Our analysis of the diverse survey results brought us to an important overarching conclusion:

Conclusion: Successful institutions that have significant similarities to NCAR across the country and world have implemented a wide variety of workforce management practices and policies such that one best workforce management model does not appear to exist.

Surprisingly, none of the 16 peer institutions had a workforce management plan. As a result, this report is unique and not modeled after a similar effort. In fact, most institutions contacted expressed a great of deal of interest in obtaining a copy of our document when it was completed. An external survey of the community reveals an aging scientific and technical workforce and increasing competition to recruit the top people in the field. According to the National Science Board’s “Science and Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2008,”1 we can expect that the number of trained scientists and engineers in the labor force will increase, yet the average age of this workforce will rise because of the longevity of current workers. Forty percent of all S&E doctoral degree holders2 in the labor force are age 50 and older, and doctoral degree holders work slightly longer than the average worker. In fact, at age 69, 21% of those with a doctoral degree work full time (compared to 16% of those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees). Similarly, a review of NCAR’s population reveals that 26% of the current NCAR staff and approximately 40% of the current ladder scientific staff will exceed retirement age (defined as age 65) within ten years. These numbers suggest that we can expect a significant turnover of staff in the near future (Fig. 1). Accordingly, long-range planning is necessary to define the NCAR workforce of the future.

 


 

1 National Science Foundation, “S&E Graduate Enrollments Accelerate in 2007; Enrollments of Foreign Students Reach New High” June 2009, published by the National Science Board

2 The R&D labor force does not include just those in the S&E occupations. Of those who spent at least 10% of their time in R&D, only 45% were in S&E occupations.

Environmental Scan and Internal Data (continued)

Age  distribution of all NCAR ladder-track scientists

 Figure 1:  as of July 1, 2009. Includes four scientists on leave or temporary assignments. 

Our country’s population is becoming more diverse. The working-age population is projected to become more than 50% minority in 2039 and be 55% minority in 2050 (up from 34% in 2008). The Hispanic population is expected to double, from 15% to 30%.3 However, the number of PhD degrees in the geosciences remains small for those in traditionally underrepresented groups (Fig. 2). At the same time, there are important scientific problems in the atmospheric and related sciences with critical socioeconomic impacts that NCAR must be able to address. As discussed in Section III, evidence suggests that creativity and problem solving, both prerequisites to scientific insight, improve in diverse teams. While it is clear that scientists are central to our programs at NCAR, there are other job categories that are also critical to the success of our mission. For example, engineers and computer scientists are a significant and important component of our workforce and provide opportunities to diversify our staff based on the available pool (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/).

 


3 From the U.S. Census (http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/population/012496.html)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental Scan and Internal Data (continued)

Number of PhDs awarded in geosciences

 

Figure 2: Number of PhDs awarded in geosciences 1973 through 2005. Source: http://caspar.nsf.gov

The external scan reveals that funding for the NSF Division of Atmospheric Sciences (ATM) has decreased in recent years (Fig. 3). This has resulted in a corresponding decrease in funding to NSF’s grants program and NCAR. The current funding environment is challenging and places constraints on our ability to redress staffing shortages by depending on additional resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental Scan and Internal Data (continued)

PhDs in Geosciences

 

Figure 3: ATM funding in constant 2000 dollars (in millions) from 1972 through 2009. Solid and dashed lines represent funding without and with ARRA (America Recovery and Reinvestment Act). Source: NSF/ATM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental Scan and Internal Data (continued)

 

The total number of UCAR staff on payroll for the past nine years is shown in Figure 4.  A moderate increase in staff can be seen during the first half of the decade; however, the last half of the decade has seen essentially no growth. (Growth resumed in FY09 as a result of improved federal budgets and ARRA stimulus funding).

Snapshot of  number of NCAR FTE employees

Figure 4: Snapshot of number of NCAR FTE employees, 1997 through 2009, taken on July 1 of each year.


During this time, there has been a relative increase in the number of scientific/research engineering staff and a decline in the number of paid (salaried) visitors. The numbers of scientific and computing support has increased, while the numbers of engineering/technical and administrative staff have remained relatively constant. The number of management positions has increased slightly (Fig. 5).


Number of staff (FTEs) by category

Figure 5: Number of staff (FTEs), by category, from 1997 to 2009, taken on July 1 of each year.

 

Environmental Scan and Internal Data (continued)

Figure 5: Number of staff (FTEs), by category, from 1997 to 2009, taken on July 1 of each year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental Scan and Internal Data (continued)

NCAR staff costs for FY 2005 and 2008 are shown in Figure 6. Contributions to staff support from NSF base, non-NSF funds, NSF-Special Funds, CSC4, and indirect monies are presented. There has been an increase in base support for senior scientists, managers and engineers. Project scientist support from soft money has increased, while there has not been a noticeable change in the funding support for associate scientists. There has been an overall decrease in support for salaried visitors.

Staffing costs

Figure 6: Staffing costs by job categories in FY05 and FY08.

 


4 Computing Service Center: Charge per work-time hour required to cover the operating costs of the laboratory/division computing service center. The CSC charge is based on the estimated number of hours worked in a laboratory/division.

 

 

Environmental Scan and Internal Data (continued)

Another way of looking at the costs of different job categories is presented in Figure 7. The greatest allocation of NSF (base) funding in FY08 was to ladder scientists (36%), software engineers (21%), engineers (7%), and project scientists (6%).

NSF  base-funded staff costs

Figure 7: NSF base-funded staff costs in FY08.


One of the most important roles for NCAR is to interact and collaborate with the community, particularly the university community, through its various visitors programs. Figures 6 and 7 show a small amount of NSF base and other funds for paid visitors, and this low level of funding is of some concern. However, these figures do not provide a complete picture of the number of external visitors at NCAR. Figure 8 provides a breakdown of paid visitors and those that are and are not provided financial support (e.g., travel and per diem). NCAR provides at least some financial support for 40% of our visitors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental Scan and Internal Data (continued)

Number of external visitors to NCAR in 2008

A Workplace Climate Survey was conducted with almost half of NCAR employees (413— 237 men and 176 women) responding to questions about many of the aspects of the UCAR/NCAR environment. This survey was similar to one conducted by the American Physical Society's Committee on the Status of Women in Physics in 2000. The goal of the survey was to explore employees’ perceptions of their workplace.

Of the survey respondents, 149 (35.8%) were affiliated with the Earth and Sun Systems Laboratory, 85 (20.4%) with the Research Applications Laboratory, 76 (18.3%) with the Earth Observing Laboratory, and 72 (17.2%) with the Computational and Information Systems Laboratory. The majority of respondents belong to the scientific (40.6%) and engineering/computing (36.8%) groups. Other groups included administration, communication, education, or program specialist (14.9%), director/manager (6.3%), and facilities support (1.4%).

According to the survey results, 85% of respondents agree that the NCAR workplace is welcoming, 89% think that it’s friendly, and 88% say it’s flexible. Most respondents (93.4%) participate in NCAR-sponsored activities such as lectures, receptions, and parties. An overwhelming majority also responded positively to a series of questions about the capabilities, accessibility, and fairness of their supervisors; positive responses ranged between 76 and 89%. More than 80% of respondents are suitably challenged by their jobs and feel that their skills are well utilized. A gender breakdown of these results reveals male and female responses within 2% in each category.

The survey also contained four open-ended questions. 251 respondents (60%) commented on what contributed to their workplace success. Good supervisors and mentors were frequently cited, as were resources, flexible schedules (including work/family balance policies), supportive coworkers, intellectual freedom, and the absence of micromanagement. Respondents also pointed to their personal work ethic, training (academic and UCAR staff development), and professional competencies. 235 respondents (56%) wrote about hindrances. They cited inadequate budgets and insufficient resources, reorganizations, and moves. Overwhelming workloads, issues with management practices and decisions, and the absence of opportunities for advancement were also noted. 109 (26%) offered suggestions for improving the work environment. These included better communication (particularly as related to budget decisions), the need for better management skills, mentoring, and assistance with career planning.

 

 

Environmental Scan and Internal Data (continued)

Cross-cutting Issues

It was clear during the subcommittee deliberations and from the internal survey that there were two cross-cutting issues for NCAR—mentoring and evaluation of employees. Many staff wanted more opportunities for mentoring to help advance their own careers and to help them understand workforce policies and practices. They also wanted increased clarity and transparency about how they were evaluated. These concerns lead to two recommendations:

  1. Promote mentoring.
    Each laboratory should maintain a program for mentoring of staff, especially those who are early in their careers. Laboratories should create a pool of individuals who have agreed to serve as mentors to those in need to advice and counsel. In these programs, it should be emphasized that mentoring is a shared responsibility; however it is the obligation of the person receiving mentoring to seek advice and take advantage of resources that are available (or to decide that they are not needed). Mentoring of staff, including managers, is especially needed in order to help increase diversity.
  2. Clarify the evaluation process.
    NCAR and UCAR management should more clearly define how highly diverse job functions should be evaluated within a given job category. The relative importance of jobs within a job family should be indicated by the Position Description (PD) of each employee in the organization. Over time, the PD may not fully reflect how the employee actually spends his or her time in the job; therefore, it should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

Procedures and practices across divisions and labs

The internal scan, highlighted by discussions with administrators and directors, led to a series of recommendations regarding procedures and practices within the organization.

1. Collaborate to establish best management practices across labs and programs and make them transparent by: 

  • Continuing to maintain and update the NCAR Administrators’ Users Manual to document and standardize or customize lab and program processes and practices, 
  • Expanding new-employee orientation at the lab/program level to include an introduction to lab procedures, committees, and resource people,
  • Providing regular opportunities for staff to learn about changes in procedures or staff responsibilities and review lab management protocols through town meetings, staff newsletters, and Web pages; and holding annual administration retreats to share best practices.

2. Regularly collect data on internal and external workforce trends
To support informed dialog with staff and knowledgeable decision making at the individual and institutional level, management should regularly collect and publish workforce metrics for NCAR and share this information with peer institutions.

3. Proceed with the next phases of strategic and operational workforce planning and resource allocation by:

  • Including workforce data and projections in the Annual Budget Review (ABR) process,
  • Estimating the costs of the WMP recommendations,
  • Conducting regular internal assessments of workforce needs and gaps,
  • Supporting matrix and project staff management,
  • Preparing to meet future workforce requirements through long-term planning and investments in professional development opportunities for staff,
  • Investing in training, recruiting, diversity efforts, and retaining and recognizing staff, 
  • Partnering with the research and university community to plan for the future NCAR and community workforce.