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For half, STEM degrees lead to other jobs

Patrick Thibodeau, Sharon Machlis | July 25, 2014
The truth, when it comes to computer employment data, is almost always ugly.

Most STEM educated workers "in non-STEM jobs are simply not utilizing the skills they were trained to use," said Lowell.

Jonathan T. Rothwell, a fellow at The Brookings Institution, doesn't believe that the Census study captures the role that STEM-trained workers play. Many STEM majors end up working in some kind of managerial capacity, "and that's the natural outgrowth of success in their field."

Rothwell points out that Google's co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, would both be classified as non-STEM managers by the Census, even though both are STEM-trained. While STEM-specific managers such as CIOs would be included as STEM occupations, CEOs would not.

Rothwell doesn't believe that there is an oversupply of STEM workers, and argues that there are shortages in some areas, and criticizes the Census data as too narrow.

Michael Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at the Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said the Census report adds another source of "compelling evidence" that "there is no credible evidence of generalized shortages in the STEM workforce."

Even in the industries from which the most vocal shortage claims come — the computer, math and statistics areas — "the Census Bureau report concludes that only about one-half of bachelors' graduates in these fields actually are employed in STEM occupations," he said.

Within this, Teitelbaum said "some specific occupations, at specific points in time, in specific geographic areas, are having more-than-average difficulty in recruitment — but that is always the case in labor markets." His recent book, Falling Behind, Boom Bust & the Global Race for Scientific Talent, (Princeton, 2014), finds a history of industry calls for more STEM workers that leads to an oversupply.

Stan Sorscher, labor representative at the Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), a union representing over 24,000 scientists, engineers, and other professional employees in the aerospace industry, said there are three factors that discourage long-term STEM careers.

The first is age discrimination, particularly in software occupations. Second is the number of contingent positions and third is the use of foreign workers holding H-1Bvisas, who tend to take entry-level or near entry level jobs making it difficult for those who want to start out in the field, he said.

Sorscher, who has a Ph.D in physics, said that said that STEM careers are "osmotic," in the sense that almost any career path out of STEM is one-way.

"You may have many career options from a STEM job, but it's very difficult to change jobs into a STEM occupation." Any time not in the field is career limiting, he explained.

"Each time an employer announces layoffs or offshores work, in the turmoil, a certain fraction of the STEM workforce will move into other occupations," Sorscher added.


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