STEM shortage: real or myth?

It’s easy to get caught up in the rally for STEM workers when President Obama and many other people are advocating for its cause. President Obama is not passive about his views about getting kids interested in STEM, in fact he is very vocal. The White House website quoted Obama agreeing that STEM needs to be addressed and conquered in the classroom in order to continue to advance technologically.

“Reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century,” said President Obama. “That’s why I am committed to making the improvement of STEM education over the next decade a national priority.”

It is surprising to see such an influential leader stepping up and really taking the STEM issue to the next level. What a lot of people are wondering, though, is if all the hype and stress about improving our nation’s STEM educations is worth it.

FierceCIO explores this topic in one of their articles, and they found that it is possible we are taking the call for STEM workers a little too seriously. They quoted Michael S. Teitelbaum, the writer for The Atlantic, saying that there is not nearly as big of a STEM worker shortage as some people are making it out to seem.

“When you cut through all the rhetoric, there are shortages in some narrow fields, but no empirical evidence to suggest that STEM is facing a broad and widespread shortage,” Teitelbaum said.

While there is potential reason to believe Teitelbaum’s statement to be true, unfortunately for him some of the real statistics are working against his statement. The National Math and Science Initiative shared some interesting and thought-provoking statistics on their website about the U.S.’s STEM education. Some statistics were not as relevant and suggested that they were worrying too much about STEM, but others implied otherwise.

“44 percent of 2013 U.S. high school graduates are ready for college-level math. 36 percent of 2013 U.S. high school students are ready for college-level science,” NMSI wrote. “26 nations: The number of industrialized nations whose high school students performed better than U.S. students in math in 2012. 19 nations: The number of industrialized nations whose high school students performed better than U.S. students in science in 2012. In 2008, 4 percent of U.S. bachelor’s degrees were awarded in engineering, compared with 31 percent in China. In 2008, 31 percent of U.S. bachelor’s degrees were awarded in science and engineering fields, compared with 61 percent in Japan and 51 percent in China.”
As much as some people would argue that STEM is the least of our worries in a problem-ridden world, the statistics do show that some concern needs to be shown about the U.S.’ education problems in those areas.

Patrick Gray from TechRepublic has a different view of STEM than most people, and in an article he wrote he explained what he thought employers in STEM fields should really be doing, rather than worrying about if they are going to find enough STEM workers.

“The keys to correcting this boom/bust cycle are on both sides of the employer-employee relationship. For employers, an employee shortage in some critical skill areas does not represent an existential threat to your company, the economy, or the very fabric of the nation,” Gray said. “Employers also need to look for capable, proven individuals with a demonstrated ability to learn and adapt.”

Gray also gives some practical advice to the future STEM workers out there preparing for these jobs. He suggests potentially looking big picture, instead of honing in on one STEM subject.

“For employees, approach your career development deliberately and thoughtfully. Don't look solely to your employer to provide formal training, and avoid focusing solely on a single technology or aspect of your business,” Gray wrote.

Ultimately, he hopes that the interest in STEM careers will grow not because of the money associated with those careers but because of honest love of STEM, and employers will look beyond the basic STEM career needs to workers who are adaptable and willing to be taught, rather than workers who are proficient and skilled in one particular area of STEM.

Maybe instead of thinking about a boost in STEM careers as a way to make the U.S. into the best, most technologically advanced, smartest country, we as U.S. citizens should be thinking how we can better ourselves and our neighbors through improving our STEM education.

To learn more, visit NMSI’s website, read this article on TechRepublic’s website, read this article on FierceCIO’s website or visit this page on The White House’s website.

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