Monday, September 02, 2013

Crisis in STEM?

This author, who should know (based on where his article is being published), says "not so fast":
You must have seen the warning a thousand times: Too few young people study scientific or technical subjects, businesses can’t find enough workers in those fields, and the country’s competitive edge is threatened...

And yet, alongside such dire projections, you’ll also find reports suggesting just the opposite—that there are more STEM workers than suitable jobs. One study found, for example, that wages for U.S. workers in computer and math fields have largely stagnated since 2000. Even as the Great Recession slowly recedes, STEM workers at every stage of the career pipeline, from freshly minted grads to mid- and late-career Ph.D.s, still struggle to find employment as many companies, including Boeing, IBM, and Symantec, continue to lay off thousands of STEM workers.

To parse the simultaneous claims of both a shortage and a surplus of STEM workers, we’ll need to delve into the data behind the debate, how it got going more than a half century ago, and the societal, economic, and nationalistic biases that have perpetuated it. And what that dissection reveals is that there is indeed a STEM crisis—just not the one everyone’s been talking about. The real STEM crisis is one of literacy: the fact that today’s students are not receiving a solid grounding in science, math, and engineering...

At least in the United States, you don’t need a STEM degree to get a STEM job, and if you do get a degree, you won’t necessarily work in that field after you graduate. If there is in fact a STEM worker shortage, wouldn’t you expect more people with STEM degrees to be filling those jobs? And if many STEM jobs can be filled by people who don’t have STEM degrees, then why the big push to get more students to pursue STEM?..

So is there a shortfall of STEM workers or isn’t there?
Go read the whole thing to find out :)

Near the end of the article, the author switches topics a bit away from preparing graduates in the STEM fields to ensuring everyone has a good grounding in basic science and math:
A broader view, I and many others would argue, is that everyone needs a solid grounding in science, engineering, and math. In that sense, there is indeed a shortage—a STEM knowledge shortage. To fill that shortage, you don’t necessarily need a college or university degree in a STEM discipline, but you do need to learn those subjects, and learn them well, from childhood until you head off to college or get a job. Improving everyone’s STEM skills would clearly be good for the workforce and for people’s employment prospects, for public policy debates, and for everyday tasks like balancing checkbooks and calculating risks. And, of course, when science, math, and engineering are taught well, they engage students’ intellectual curiosity about the world and how it works.
As he had, just a few paragraphs prior, advocated for what amounts to a high-quality liberal education, I support his call for a broad liberal education.


Auntie Ann said...

There are lots of stories about older STEM workers unable to find jobs, as employers favor straight-out-of-college newbies. I'm sure the fact that newbies and H1B migrants are also cheaper to employ than older, experienced employees has absolutely nothing to do with it.

The article's right to look at wages as a measure of scarcity.

Paul Smith said...

Nice thoughts! Thanks for sharing your ideas on STEM. The article that you inserted is interesting too. Posting on a holiday? What a hardworking teacher! Hope you had a great weekend and best of luck with a new school year!

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