I know some BJ regulars get a bit tired of my constant media criticism. Here’s a perfect example of why I think it’s so important.
David Plotz has kicked off a big project dedicated to fixing the problem that we don’t have enough scientists and engineers in this country. He wants to stop the fact that we’re suffering from a lack of qualified STEM students graduating from our colleges. There’s just one problem: that is absolutely untrue. The basic premise of this grand project of his is simply not correct. Here’s Congressional testimony from Dr. Ron Hira, professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and someone who possesses both expertise and empirical evidence to support his claims:
At present, “there are too many skilled workers chasing too few jobs.”Focusing specifically on computer and mathematical occupations, “a field where Mr. Smith argues there’s a shortage of workers,” Hira also finds “unemployment rates…much higher than we would expect at full-employment.” These two fields, which constitute “the largest of all STEM occupations,” suffered “unemployment rates of 5.2% in 2009 and 2010,…more than twice the levels at full-employment” based on historical data. In fact, in 2010, the unemployment rate for computer and mathematical workers exceeded that of all college graduates by half a percentage point. The unemployment rates for electrical and electronic engineers and for medical scientists in 2010 were 5.4% and 4.1%, respectively, Hira writes. Again, he finds that, instead of any “broad-based shortage” in these fields, “there are too few jobs for those skilled workers.”After laying off 5,000 workers in 2009, Hira goes on, Microsoft has “an offer-acceptance rate [of] 93%, meaning that 93% of job applicants who were offered a position accepted it. A rate this high would indicate that Microsoft is experiencing little competition in attracting job candidates,” he states.
Arguments that students are not prepared for majors and careers in STEM are not supported by this data. The trends indicating increased proportions of students
majoring in STEM show that students are interested in and/or sufficiently prepared to major in STEM fields. The decline in the retention of the top achievers in the late 1990s
is of concern, however. This may indicate that the top high school graduates are no longer interested in STEM, but it might also indicate that a future in a STEM job is not attractive for some reason.The decline in retention from college to first job might also be due to loss of interest in STEM careers, but alternatively top STEM majors may be responding to market forces and incentives. From this perspective, the problem may not be that there are too few STEM qualified college graduates, but rather that STEM firms are unable to attract them.