STEM Skills Scarcity in Today’s Marketplace

Annie TeichThere has been so much controversy about the Common Core over the last year that it’s helpful to remember that it was initially the business community that called for a set of benchmarked skills to ensure that high school graduates were ready for college and career. Businesses needed high caliber applicants to take jobs in the 21st century economy.

For most states, this meant increased academic rigor for K-12 students.

It has been generally believed that before, during, and since the country’s recent economic recession that STEM jobs have gone unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. And, that the shortage continues today. The corollary to that has been that STEM-skilled workers are among the highest paid.

Through its analysis of new, unique data available for the first time, the Brookings Institution has just released a report that verifies and quantifies these suppositions.

Using the duration of job vacancies as a measure of hiring difficulty, the report concludes that there are not enough STEM qualified workers to supply the needs of the U.S. labor market.

Key findings include:

• STEM positions take more than twice as long to fill as non-STEM jobs.
• Highly compensated computer jobs have the longest vacancies among all major occupational groups.
• Need varies by region.

“The problem is particularly acute in specific regions with few STEM workers or few unemployed STEM workers. These results imply that enhanced STEM training and education would have enormous benefits for individuals, firms, and regions.”

For example, technology centers such as San Jose, CA average 59-day vacancies. San Francisco is 56 days, and Seattle averages 48 days.

Supply and Demand

According to the report, U.S. companies state that many of the hardest-to-fill jobs require STEM skills—skilled trades and technicians, information technology staff, financial analysts, and engineers.

The data also indicates that there are a large number of low-skilled occupations with continual vacancies because companies with high employee turnover are continually recruiting new employees.

Job vacancy data for early in 2014 revealed that there were five job openings for every unemployed computer worker in the country; 3.3 job openings for every unemployed health practitioner; and 1.7 for those in architecture or engineering.

Report author Jonathan Rockwell states, “These job openings data provide new evidence that, post-recession, STEM skills, particularly those associated with high levels of educational attainment, are in high demand among employers. Meanwhile, job seekers possessing neither STEM knowledge nor higher education face extraordinary levels of competition for a scarce number of jobs.”

Rockwell further notes that in 1970 the premium paid for STEM workers was 12 percent. Today it is up to 21 percent.

The Bottom Line

So what does this mean for educational companies? Well, we all have a personal interest, don’t we? We need highly qualified applicants to hire for our own companies now and into the future.

Secondly, the “rising tide lifts all boats” theory implies that all companies will prosper in a positive economic climate where companies are fully staffed and contributing at a high level.

Thirdly, for those of us who create educational products, it is both our opportunity and our responsibility to make rigorous products that improve learning.

If we can do that, we will make a significant contribution to K-12 education as well as to our national economy.