Understanding the STEM Skills Gap
STEM Careers Daniel Masata, an expert in engineering and technology, explains the STEM skills gap.
The shortage of professionals with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly referred to as STEM, is coinciding with vigorously heightened demand for these very same employees.
There are 1.4 vacant STEM jobs for every one qualified STEM job seeker, according to a study by Change The Equation, a nonprofit committed to improving STEM education. This is in stark contrast to the general job market, where there is just one job for every 3.6 people.
While the number of available professionals is dwindling, the amount of available jobs is expected to explode. Between 2008 and 2018, the Center on Education and the Workforce projects that 1.1 million new STEM jobs will be created and an additional 1.3 million replacement positions will need to be filled as STEM employees retire, transition or leave the workforce for other reasons.
"If the current ratio of STEM talent to STEM jobs holds steady, that means that more than 1.7 million STEM positions will be vacant by 2018."
The laws of supply and demand are driving up the costs of STEM workers, which is welcome news for job seekers, but not great news for employers. Between 2000 and 2012, the median wage for STEM workers rose 3.5 percent when adjusted for inflation. Though this uptick might seem insignificant, it’s important to view the increase in context: the inflation-adjusted median wage for all other occupations actually fell by 5.5 percent.
Filling the gap
Academia has bore the brunt of the blame for the skills shortage. However, it seems that the fault doesn’t lie entirely with universities and their ability to educate, but also with students and their desire to pursue STEM careers.
According to the National Center for Education, for every 100 undergraduate students, just 28 percent enroll in STEM degree programs despite the allure of high wages and low unemployment. Of those 28 percent, nearly half (48 percent) change course before graduating. In the end, for every 100 undergrads, only 13 earn a degree in a STEM-related field.
To spur interest in STEM, educators must start early—in high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools—and career relevant math, science and computer instruction must be made available to a wider audience of students across age groups, demographics and geographies.
Cooperation between educators and business leaders is also essential. School districts should partner with local businesses to offer mentorship programs in STEM fields, giving students the chance to enhance their skills and comfort levels while simultaneously building a candidate pipeline for employers.
With the skills shortage growing bigger, now is the time for America to start getting serious about bridging the STEM gap.