Recently, I have come across this infographic floating around the web that I believe deserves more attention. You can see the full version here. It illustrates the labor pool shortage we are experiencing in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) related fields. Some key takeaways:
- 75% of students talented in math and science decide not to pursue STEM in college.
- Almost 40% of college students who planned to major in STEM switch to non-STEM, or fail entirely.
- Only 19% of college degrees awarded are STEM-related.
- STEM demand is growing. By 2018, 2.8 million STEM jobs will open.
- STEM interest in college is faltering. In some specialties it is at an all-time low.
I recall not too long ago that despite unemployment being at 8-9% with millions unemployed, tens of thousands of STEM-jobs were going unfilled (some of which were at the software company I work for), simply because there were not enough qualified candidates. I was just talking to a colleague at Fannie Mae a few weeks ago and discovered that of the 800 openings they are struggling to fill, 500 of them are in technology. This rift is a combination of decrease in STEM supply and increase in demand.
The increase in demand is not surprising. Some driving forces that come to mind are:
- Technology breeds more technology - Innovations lead to more innovations to build and old creations to maintain. The Internet for example led to an explosion of web-based applications. Breakthroughs in human genome sequencing opened up a new world of possibilities.
- Global rising middle-class - There is an unprecedented amount of middle-class growth around the globe never before seen in human history. This typically means urbanization which means all sorts of demand in construction, power, communications, financial, entertainment and transportation technologies.
- Increasingly older population - It's no secret that the world is getting older and people are living longer. This means a relatively small work force must support a relatively larger population. This phenomenon is more pronounced with the aging baby boomer population. The only way this can work is if the workforce is more productive, and much of productivity is/will be driven by innovation and automation from STEM R&D.
The decrease in supply is more baffling to me. Students are often quoted as saying STEM is "hard" and that is why they shy away from pursuing it. STEM has always been hard however. If anything, STEM is arguably easier to learn today with many advancements in education technology. Some driving forces that I have heard or come to mind are:
- Pop culture - I think pop culture must shoulder at least some of the responsibility. In the past decade or two, I recall seeing many celebrations of stupidity in pop media: Beavis and Butthead, MTV, Southpark, and Jackass to name just a few. This is certainly not conducive to promoting brain-powered activities like STEM.
- Attention deficit rhythm - The rhythm of life today seems spawned by and encouraging of attention deficit. People are bombarded by pieces of information from all direction vying for their mind share causing people to spread their time and think a little bit about many things. Interruptions and distractions from email, your smartphone, social media and other new sources abound. This is not conducive to STEM. Hard things usually require deep, undivided attention and focus.
- Natural cycle - Like most natural phenomenon, things ebb and flow. Maybe this is just another swing in the pendulum and we will see a big uptick in STEM interest soon. Maybe.
- Cushy lifestyles - Too many kids sit at home on the couch playing videogames, watching TV, or playing on their smartphone these days. This lifestyle is too cushy and not conducive to fostering a posture toward tackling tough endeavors like STEM.
- Weak parenting - For whatever reason, parents now are too focused on nurturing and over-inflating their kids' self esteem without having them do the hard stuff to earn that sense of self worth first. This again is not conducive to tackling hard (yet rewarding) endeavors like STEM.
- Conspiracy theory - Yes, I have heard this before. Ever since we got to the moon, there has been a deliberate and systematic initiative by the powers to be to dumb down the population for easier control and governance.
Whatever the reasons are, this shortage is not news to politicians, policy makers, nor corporations (nor news to TechHui). This shortage affects large macro issues like America being competitive in the global arena to mundane daily issues like how easy it is to get healthcare (In Hawaii for example, it is not uncommon to have to wait 6-8 months just to get a regular doctor's appointment as a new patient). The STEM shortage conversation doesn't seem to have progressed far enough beyond government and business however, so here is some basic advice:
- If you are a parent, train your kids to be able to tackle the hard stuff. Yes, "pursue your passions" is good but within the parameters of what the world needs more of.
- If you are a student inclined to STEM, don't be a part of the 75%. Pursue it. It's hard, but worth it. Ditto to students who already chose STEM. Just follow through.
- If you are a student not inclined to STEM at all, encourage your STEM peers' STEM pursuits. This has the added bonus of making your non-STEM career more valuable. :)
- If you are already a STEM professional, constantly improve yourself and encourage your craft.
- If you shape pop culture, make Star Trek cool again!