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What the Skills Gap DOESN’T Mean for STEM Jobs

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Jessica Miller-Merrell, blogging4jobs

The skills gap is a growing concern for employers across America and there is no better example than in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries. Of more than 4000 companies PayScale surveyed, 67% report having a skills gap in 2013. Its effects are felt by companies that are constantly under pressure to develop advanced technologies, but it’s also felt by companies across every imaginable industry simply filling positions in IT and related departments. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be 8,654,000 jobs in STEM jobs in just five years, and that’s not even including self-employed professionals. Job creation is certainly a positive thing, but 42 percent of employers believe that employees will enter the workforce unprepared for STEM jobs.

We talk often about what the skills gap means for employers, but very rarely do we look at the other side of the argument. Employers certainly feel the pain of the STEM skills gap just as much (and maybe even more) than other industries, but there are a few things that aren’t happening in STEM industries as a result of the skills gap.

Inflated salaries
A skills gap in a particular industry has the power to raise salaries in general across that industry. It’s the simple law of supply and demand. If there are 100 positions open in your city, but only 10 qualified workers to fill them, those workers are worth more simply because there is not enough supply to meet the demand. (Remember that chapter in economics?) It would stand to reason then, that the disproportionate ratio of open STEM positions in America to STEM-qualified workers in America would drive up the demand, right? Well, not really. Although STEM jobs have an average starting salary of about $35,000 higher than non-STEM positions, they’re not rising rapidly overall.

If you’re wondering why this is, start by looking beyond our borders. More and more foreign students and graduates are finding themselves employed by American companies seeking STEM-qualified individuals. It’s no surprise since the U.S. House of Representatives reports that foreign students receive nearly four out of every 10 master's degrees awarded in STEM fields and about the same percentage of all doctorates.

More degrees earned in STEM fields
According to the National Science Foundation, the number of U.S. citizens earning bachelor degrees has increased by more than 50 percent over the last 20 years. However, the number of degrees earned in STEM fields has actually decreased in the last 10 years. Even more surprising is the fact that many STEM jobs don’t require a four year degree. A study released by the Brookings Institute found that half of all U.S. STEM jobs do not require a four-year degree but pay at least 10 percent more on average than other jobs with similar education requirements.

Severe need in a very specific industry
Some fields that experience the skills gap require a very specific education, certification, training and position. By default, the STEM skills gap strays away from honing in on a specific job or field because STEM skills are needed in just about every imaginable field. From photography to insurance to video game design to teaching, it truly is an overreaching category. That’s not to say that specific training isn’t needed for each position, but overall, STEM jobs account for one out of every five jobs. This means that STEM positions can probably be found in the majority of companies.

Has your company felt the sting of the STEM skills gap? Tell us how you handled it in the comments section below. 

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1 Comment

  1. 1 Elias Fernandez 31 Jul
    I read this report mysled in the Chicago Tribune and I think this is sad that people never quote the real reason people are not going into those fields that their are no real demand for STEM jobs just an excuse to hire non american's for less money. I graduated in 1993 with a bachleors degree in applied physics with a specialization in engineering and had an internship at Argonne National Labs doing superconductor research and when I graduated I went to their HR while still working at the facility and was told they did not even have an entry level job for me. I asked them what if I clean test tubes for you to get my foot in the door and they said they have Master degree canidates to do that and had no job for me so I ask you where is the demand to fill STEM jobs when I was never able to get a job in my field of pyhsics except as a high school teacher?

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