STEM Talent: Does Supply Outweigh Job Demand?


Despite reports that maintain there is a shortage of science, tech, engineering, and mathematics talent, new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) contradicts such claims, revealing that only one of every two STEM college graduates is hired into a STEM job each year.

The EPI, which analyzed supply, employment, and wage trends in the STEM labor market, notes that U.S. employers have an ample supply of STEM job candidates to choose from. In fact, for certain majors, supply far outweighs the demand. For instance, the report explains that historically, U.S. colleges have “produced about 50 percent more graduates than are hired into engineering jobs each year,” and more recent data shows that percentage to be even greater in recent years.

“Our examination shows that the STEM shortage in the United States is largely overblown,” according to Hal Salzman, one of the study’s authors.

While scores of reports highlight how STEM students tend to drop out or switch their majors, the EPI argues that there is a significant amount of students who move on to major in a STEM field at some point during their college career. “The pool of STEM majors actually increases between freshman year and graduation…Considering all students who enter a four-year college and graduate within six years, more students take on a STEM major than drop a STEM major,” the report notes.

The report also analyzed why almost half of all engineering graduates and a third of computer science degree holders have a job that is not related to their major degree. They found that a significant number of recent graduates in both fields cited pay, promotion, working conditions, and lack of available jobs as the primary reasons for not working in a college-degree-related field.

For those employed in IT fields, the largest sector of the STEM workforce, the authors found that only a small percentage (24 percent) has at least a bachelor’s degree in math or computer science. To that end, the IT industry recruits graduates with a broad range of degrees. According to 2009 figures, 46.1 percent of computer and information sciences degree graduates had IT jobs a year after graduation, but 30.7 percent of those in IT jobs had graduated in a non-STEM field.

One of the core issues for the IT fields and possibly a reason why the sector fails to attract more STEM graduates is stagnant wages. According to the EPI analysis, IT workers generally earn the same as they did 14 years ago. The study contends that although companies may tend to turn to guestworker programs to recruit international talent to fill STEM jobs (such as IT) with lower wages, policies that will encourage more guestworkers may discourage American students from entering STEM fields.

“Guestworker programs are in need of reform, but any changes should make sure that guestworkers are not lower-paid substitutes for domestic workers,” Salzman noted.

American STEM students are also top performers in high school and college. Educational performance has increased steadily in the U.S. since the 1970s, which is attributed to advancements in educational programs and curricula. Furthermore, even though some reports may indicate that U.S. college students rank average compared with students globally, the report argues: “The United States has generous numbers of students whose test scores place them among the highest of international performers.”


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