Is the STEM Shortage (and by implication computer science and information technology) a myth?

Very recently a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum, Robert N Charette, wrote an article entitled “The STEM Crisis is a Myth” <> posted on August 30, 2013

Note: This blog post is very US-centric, though Charette does have links to similar types of reports from various countries at the beginning of the article. I invite readers from outside the US to either comment or offer to write a guest blog looking at their country’s situation.

Needless to say the title piqued my interest. One issue that Mr. Charette discusses is how STEM jobs are defined and therefore what various statistics really mean. Definitions of STEM jobs range from 7.6m (US Dept of Commerce) to 12.4m (NSF)

While most of his article revolves around the group of sectors that make up STEM he does in a couple of cases refer specifically to computer science and information technology. For example

“Even in the computer and IT industry, the sector that employs the most STEM workers and is expected to grow the most over the next 5 to 10 years, not everyone who wants a job can find one. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., found that more than a third of recent computer science graduates aren’t working in their chosen major; of that group, almost a third say the reason is that there are no jobs available.”

Given the projections we’re all aware of (that there are about 150,000 CS/IT new and replacement positions opening each year on average from 2010-2020), and that we’re graduating only about half that number, why is there such a discrepancy?
I decided to take a look at the EPI study “Guest Workers in the high-skill US Labor Market” published April 24, 2013 to see what I could learn. <>

“What is surprising is that there are still 50 percent more graduates (in computer science and engineering) than the number who enter occupations related to their professional degrees.

“IT workers, who make up 59 percent of the entire STEM workforce, are predominantly drawn from fields outside of computer science and mathematics, if they have a college degree at all. Among the IT workforce, 36 percent do not have a four-year college degree; of those who do, only 38 percent have a computer science or math degree, and more than a third (36 percent) do not have a science or technology degree of any kind. Overall, less than a quarter (24 percent) of the IT workforce has at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or math. Of the total IT workforce, two-thirds to three-quarters do not have a technology degree of any type (only 11 percent have an associate degree in any field).4

“…it is clear that the IT workforce actually draws from a pool of graduates with a broad range of degrees.”

Interesting and confusing stuff to say the least. The EPI article does an extensive analysis of Guest Workers as its title suggests and finds that (apparently) there are conservatively 165,000 guest workers each year allowed into CS/IT positions which combined with domestic CS/IT grads far surpasses the average yearly projection for new and replacement CS/IT positions.

Wow – I’m really confused now – maybe somebody will help me out??? Maybe I’m just missing something obvious.

Getting back to Mr. Charette, he finally concludes with what he believes is the real STEM “shortage”.

“Rather than spending our scarce resources on ending a mythical STEM shortage, we should figure out how to make all children literate in the sciences, technology, and the arts to give them the best foundation to pursue a career and then transition to new ones. And instead of continuing our current global obsession with STEM shortages, industry and government should focus on creating more STEM jobs that are enduring and satisfying as well.”

If you’re interested, you may want to surf to the article on the IEEE website and read through the comments posted on his article – most interesting…

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One Response to Is the STEM Shortage (and by implication computer science and information technology) a myth?

  1. Moti Ben-Ari says:

    Leaving aside the political (visas) and economic (investment in educational initiatives) issues, my immediate reaction is “What’s the alternative?” The author should tell what professions are as interesting as STEM professions, but with significantly better prospects for steady employment and high earning capability! Otherwise, this is likely to have deleterious affects on students.

    I wrote something relevant in a CACM Viewpoint (Non-myths about programming. CACM 54(7), 2011, 35-37), where I tried to show (with apologies to Winston Churchill) that computing is the worst profession, except for all the rest.

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