The Challenges of the STEM Field in the US

At 15 you were told, “one day, you will change the world” because you were a natural wiz at math and science. So you joined clubs such as the mathlete team and the Mathematical Association of America. During the summers, you even traveled across the country to attend math camp, won a few competitions, and earned full scholarships to Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale and MIT. You continued to excel in college and landed paid internships at some of the nation’s top tech companies. But when you graduated, you were unable to land a job in your field of study. Well, you are not alone.

Over the years, you have heard the calls, especially for women, to follow more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects, namely a STEM path. And these calls make absolute sense given the tech startups, medical research and technological advances revolutionizing the US tech landscape. There’s also America’s desire to boost economic development, job creation and compete with other more advanced nations.

As a matter of fact, President Obama has made STEM education one of his top priorities. As a result, he created a STEM research committee and included it in his fiscal year 2015 budget. But new reports suggest that the America’s urgent need for more STEM workers is nothing more than folklore. Do you agree?

Breaking the Twig

For your entire life, you have listened to the so-called “hype” about how your talents would play a key role in making the world a better place one day. Therefore, you studied hard and everything that you have done has been centered on developing the skills required. But like you, many STEM majors are not currently working in their fields of study, says the U.S. Census Bureau.

"STEM graduates have relatively low unemployment, however these graduates are not necessarily employed in STEM occupations," said Liana Christin Landivar, a sociologist in the Census Bureau’s Industry and Occupation Statistics Branch.

According to new statistics from the Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, over 70 percent of STEM graduates are not employed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupations. Science majors had fewer graduates actually doing research jobs with 26 percent of physical science majors; 15 percent of biological, environmental and agricultural sciences majors; 10 percent of psychology majors; and 7 percent of social science majors employed in STEM occupations. But there still seems to be a shortage of women.

Over 80 percent of engineers were men with only 14 percent of women representing that occupation. However, more women were found to work in other STEM jobs such as mathematicians and statisticians (45 percent), life scientists (47 percent) and social scientists (63 percent). The question is: with so much talent and hard work, why have you accepted a job outside your field of study?

Examining the Root

It’s not like you haven’t vigorously applied for jobs within the STEM arena. And unemployment among people with STEM degrees is lower—only 3.6 percent of college graduates between the ages of 25 and 34 were unemployed in 2012 compared to the 6.1 percent of the U.S. workers in other occupations, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The problem, however, is that you are competing with the surge of other STEM graduates: half a million graduate from U.S. colleges and universities annually fight for a little over 100, 000 jobs.

"Engineering has the highest rate at which graduates move into STEM occupations, but even here the supply is over 50 percent higher than the demand," Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, told CBSNews. Salzman went to say that "[Information technology], the industry most vocal about its inability to find enough workers, hires only two-thirds of each year’s graduating class of bachelor’s degree computer scientists."

According to the Brookings Institution, who also conducted a STEM shortage study, there is still a need for STEM workers. But the problem with getting a science, technology, engineering or mathematics job is just a matter of supply versus demand. On average, a STEM vacancy was only advertised for 11 days, which was more than twice the median number of days that non-STEM jobs were advertised (5 days), says the Brookings Institution. But you have been jumping on the available job postings and applying as quickly as possible, right?

Greening the Stalk

Another fact is that President Obama’s STEM Innovation Proposal includes $170 million in new funding, including $110 million for STEM Innovation Networks, $40 million for STEM Teacher Pathways and $20 million for National STEM Master Teacher Corps. And no matter who occupies the oval office, America’s desire to become a leader in the world will never change. More importantly, the need for technological and medical advances will continue to grow.

Despite the challenges that you have been experiencing landing a job in your field of study, there’s still hope. And it doesn’t really matter whether “the STEM shortage” is actually a fable or not. The fact is that you are still young and talented. You have been all of your life.

I look forward to seeing how you will, in fact, change the world. 


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