The STEM Skills Gap: It’s not a pretty picture.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that the demand for qualified STEM workers will only continue to increase in future. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that employment in STEM fields is expected to expand faster than employment in non-STEM occupations from 2010 to 2020 (17 percent versus 9.8 percent, relatively).[1] Considering that growth in STEM jobs was three times faster than non-STEM jobs over the past decade, the difference in the number of openings is not surprising. Although this may seem like a contradiction given our current economy, there are many reasons for this rise in STEM opportunities. Firstly, retirements from the “baby boomer” generation are on the rise, pressuring employers to find replacements for these openings. Secondly, innovations and advancements in STEM fields are growing at an exponential rate. Thirdly, there are not enough new STEM graduates to fill the increasing number of job openings.

So why are there so many STEM openings but not enough people to fill them? One of the main reasons is the lack of focus in science and math within K-12 education. Without a strong background in these subjects, students may not seriously consider pursuing a career in STEM. Even if students do enroll in a post-secondary STEM program, that does not guarantee that they will have the necessary skills to succeed, and may quickly reconsider their choice to obtain a STEM degree. Statistically, only half of all students who start college with a STEM major graduate with a STEM degree, which means that only 19 out of every 100 students who graduate with a baccalaureate obtain a degree in the STEM field. In the workplace, only 10 of these 19 will work within their specialization. After 10 years in the labor market, this number reduces to 8 STEM workers.[2]

These issues will resurface in the next post, where I ask the big question: How we change these trends and recruit more students into STEM fields?

— Phoebe Low

[1] United States. US Department of Commerce. Economics and Statistics Administration.STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future. By David Langdon, George Mckittrick, David Beede, Beethika Khan, and Mark Doms. Economics and Statistics Administration, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2013.

[2] Carnevale, Anthony P., Nicole Smith, and Michelle Melton. STEM. Rep. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2013.

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