The illusion of the STEM grad shortage

Despite Obama’s new goal and support, among STEM grads there is still unemployment.

Anant Naik

Over the past decade, we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. President Barack Obama set a goal to create one million new STEM graduates and 100,000 new STEM teachers in the next 10 years. This plan will allocate more funds to elementary and high schools, emphasizing the importance of a STEM education.

Politicians have added more STEM messages to their campaigns. They’re convincing America that there’s a huge shortage of STEM students.

While I don’t discredit Obama’s STEM policy, I think we place scientific jobs on a pedestal, when in reality they face many of the same problems that other industries face.

Though I love the sciences, I think it’s important that we don’t get carried away with STEM jobs. A tremendous body of research over the past few years shows that legislators have overhyped STEM.

According to the most recent American Community Survey, only 36 percent of engineering, computer and math
majors actually had jobs in their respective fields. The Economic Policy Institute confirmed that for every two students who graduate with a STEM degree, only one is actually hired in a job related to their field.

This means that many students who set out to be engineers in various companies aren’t getting those opportunities. Instead, they end up working jobs that don’t have much to do with what they studied. I view this as a failure of the STEM program.

We’ve been focusing on the wrong side of the scale. Instead of helping increase the number of available jobs in the STEM market, we’ve helped create a group of highly skilled workers whom many see as dispensable.

In a different study, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers showed that wages for jobs in science, technology and math have stagnated since 2000. This shows that companies aren’t valuing these jobs any more than they did before.

When defining STEM in Congress, air conditioning technicians and other retail workers have been included to simply to show that STEM jobs are available. In reality, many important scientific bodies, such as the National Science Foundation, show that hundreds of thousands of potential STEM workers are unemployed.

Though emphasis on science and engineering is OK, I don’t think this means we have this purported shortage of STEM workers. Furthermore, we’re not presenting the facts correctly when we encourage college students to pursue STEM majors.

The reality is that not all STEM graduates will get high-paying STEM jobs.

Many will be unemployed. Wages on average haven’t improved recently.

The future isn’t that much brighter for us science or math grads than anyone else. Before we accept the government’s emphasis on STEM, let’s be sure that those of us studying science and engineering are pursuing these subjects because we actually enjoy them.