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Do We Really Have a Shortage of STEM Workers? 491

New pweidema writes "Michael Teitelbaum, a senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School who has been writing a book on the subject of the current state of employment in science and technology fields, recently spoke at an Education Writers Association Conference about the 'STEM Worker Shortage: Does It Exist and Is Education to Blame?' The National Science Board's biennial book, Science and Engineering Indicators , consistently finds that the U.S. produces many more STEM graduates than the workforce can absorb. Meanwhile, employers say managers are struggling to find qualified workers in STEM fields. What explains these apparently contradictory trends? And as the shortage debate rages, what do we know about the pipeline of STEM-talented students from kindergarten to college, and what happens to them in the job market? An article LA Times summarizes his findings of his findings on the STEM hype: '...some of it comes from the country’s longtime cycle of waxing and waning interest in science; attention seems to focus on science every 10 to 15 years before slacking off. The only forces pushing the idea of STEM doom, he said, are those that have something to gain from it. Mostly those are STEM employers ... that want to pack the labor force with people to suppress wages ... Joining the chorus are universities that want more funding for science programs...'"
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Do We Really Have a Shortage of STEM Workers?

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  • by epiphani ( 254981 ) <epiphani@ d a l . net> on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @09:58AM (#46344981)

    There's no conspiracy to push down wages - these are real complaints. The same problem exists in many fields - there's a difference between good people and qualified people. As a hiring manager, when I complain about finding qualified people, I mean people that can show, in an interview, that they're open to and reasonably good at learning. I've hired highschool dropouts (and am one myself) and PhD grads.

    We need people that are in STEM because they WANT to be in STEM. Trying to get more people educated in a field by saying "we need more people with STEM degrees!" is like saying I need more people who know how to run. I don't want someone who knows how to run, I want someone who loves running.

  • by Anarchy24 ( 964386 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @09:59AM (#46344993) Homepage
    Colleges teach high-level theories and models and UMLs and chess board Java CS projects - useless to 99.9% of tech employers. So many compsci students I see come into class half-asleep, barely pay attention in class, and don't seem to think much about it once they leave the classroom. They think they're going to make a ton of money as .NET developers by using drag-and-drop software like Visual Studio. I am looking to hire 3 student programmers right now, and even amongst our best candidates, they can't write a simple 4-line script to output a file to screen. They are very, very smart students, but they don't have any skills! Employers need workers with practical experience, and in general WANT workers who have lots of experience with specific software. Colleges don't teach software suites, they teach theories. Programming and information technology should be taught as vocations... high-paying, of course.
  • by mikeg22 ( 601691 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @10:13AM (#46345099)
    My company is looking for experienced developers in the Denver area without much luck. They may be out there but they seem to be behind a wall of recruiters or otherwise unavailable due to not wanting to jump from their current jobs. I think the unemployment rate for .net developers here is something like 2%.

    Yes, we need more. A common Slashdot response is that the employers aren't paying enough to attract the talent. Well, if the talent isn't worth the money in terms of bang for buck for the company, then I guess that's that, employer doesn't get a new employee and the employee doesn't get the job. Its unfortunate for both sides at that point, the economics just don't add up.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @10:21AM (#46345159)

    The main problem we have is that HR keeps adding stupid bullshit to out want-ads. We submit something with "Must be familiar with principles of scientific computer and numerical analysis in Matlab. May include some C/C++, java, fortran, and/or ada." And they translate it to 5 years experience in each of those fields. No. We don;t need you to be able to write programs in those language on day 1, but might need you to tweak a function or filter or maybe move stuff from fortran (legacy) to matlab. It's not weird fortran. It's loops and math. The kind of shit anyone who is familiar with any procedural language can figure out. But HR has their own bullshit going on (mostly justification for their existence) and so, actively perverts our job postings. Hell, we wanted to hire a writer/editor to help fix our reports and they bumped the requirement to include a BS in EE simply because our division is binned as an engineering one. WTF? I've talked to people from other businesses around here and it seems to be universal.

    We do not have a shortage of good people in the country. What we have is an excess of stupidity in the system to link people who want $X with people who can provide $X.

  • by Daniel Hoffmann ( 2902427 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @10:54AM (#46345503)

    Without the right amount of culture (a computer and incentive to try and create stuff with it) while still in infancy you most likely won't have a person that:
    A: Wants to program for a living.
    B: Is good at it.

    The same is true for many other areas, electrical engineers that dismantle radios as kids for example.

    So it is not enough to try to get high school kids into STEM bachelors, you need to have the right culture while growing up to make a good professional. That is one (of many) reasons why woman are underrepresented in STEM fields, they are not encouraged at a young age to do this type of activity.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @11:31AM (#46345971)

    After a while, I simply started to ignore degrees. Especially because I need people with a very specific skill set that is hardly, if at all, taught at schools.

    My solution today is to post short "problems" with our job description. Your degree doesn't matter too much, your previous experience matters a little, your answer to my problem is what really matters, though. Of course there are always the wise guys that solve it with Google, but usually the phone interview already takes care of that (because that's where you get your next problem tossed at you).

    With this strategy I now have assembled a small but very good team of people, most of whom don't have any kind of university degree at all. But they're good at what they're doing.

    That's what matters to me. Not what sheet of paper decorates their walls.

  • by Ex-MislTech ( 557759 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @11:44AM (#46346181)

    $16,000 a year is minimum wage here, you can't even afford to live on the
    east or west coast at that wage.

    If they drive all wages to that level we will become a giant warsaw ghetto
    like just prior to WW2, or maybe that is the idea after all...

  • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @01:11PM (#46347215)

    I don't have kids, but if I did, I would tell them to go into blue collar work. engineering is a done-deal in the US if you are born and raised here. we are 'not economically viable' to hire anymore. we are able (and willing) to say NO when asked to do absurd amounts of overtime, whereas overseas imports are fine with this. the standard of living for engineers is pretty bad (if you measure it by how unstable our jobs really are and how many hours we are asked to work, for free).

    no, I would not recommend any american enter the engineering or 'thinking skills' kinds of jobs. the US is not willing to pay for your investment (time, education costs) and you would be better off with a job that cannot be outsourced (building wiring, plumbing, wallboard, etc; those cannot be done 'remotely', and so they are actually safer than tech jobs).

    what a switch that is, huh? in the 50's we were taught that we should go to school, learn our technology and we will have a secure life as long as we are good workers. this is now a LIE. you can go to school all you want, but that does not mean US companies want to hire you anymore.

Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.