STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs have grown 79% since 1990 and now make up more than 17 million jobs in the U.S. alone.
With the many technological innovations that have risen in the past decade — Internet of Things, cloud computing, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and more — there has been an increased need for STEM professionals from niche fields. In fact, 2023 reports predict that STEM professions will continue to diversify, and employment in STEM fields will rise by 10.5% in 2030, compared to non-STEM jobs, which are predicted to grow by 7.5%.
However, astonishingly the number of applications has dropped significantly in the past years. In the U.S., companies of all sizes face a workforce crisis and struggle to fill critical skilled roles in STEM occupations. Erin White of STEMConnector estimated that up to 2.4 million STEM jobs need to be filled. Shockingly, the crisis echoes in the U.K as well. According to data from the U.K Commission for Employment & Skills, 43% of STEM openings are yet to be filled.
Which is making us wonder, why is there such a gap in the drop of applications? Was it because of the rise in use of technology putting more emphasis on skilled STEM talent?
What fueled the change to STEM?
The STEM environment has changed dramatically in recent years. More people are using technology, and there have been many technological advances in areas like artificial intelligence, the internet, and smart devices, among others. This has led to new tools, methods, and research areas.
Also, as the amount of data grew, more focus has been shifted to getting accurate and up-to-date data. New ways of handling and analyzing large data sets are needed.
Moreover, STEM fields have become more focused on making new products, processes, and services that can be sold. This has made entrepreneurship and innovation more critical.
If you lay everything out on paper, it’s like a domino effect. The STEM environment has become more technologically driven, interconnected, and data-driven, necessitating an interdisciplinary approach and increased collaboration among various areas. And because of this, there is a growing need for more people with STEM talent.
How come there is still a huge demand-supply gap for talents? Well, it’s partly due to technological advances and the way the world is progressing quickly, which has put emphasis on finding quality STEM professionals.
What’s driving the STEM talent shortage?
Due to the advances in technology and the way the modern world is evolving, the pressure is on quality STEM professionals. Now, the next question is, what drove the talent shortage in STEM? Let’s dive deeper.
The need to have a robust STEM education
Careers in STEM have much potential, which is why students flock to majors and education programs in these fields every year. For instance, in the U.K. alone, there was a 400% increase in acceptances for students wishing to go on to study Artificial Intelligence courses at university. While in the U.S., there has been a 15% increase in overall graduate student enrollments in science and engineering in the last decade.
COVID-19, on the other hand, exacerbated gaps in the fundamental skills needed for success in these fields. It would be simple to blame educational institutions and educators for failing to educate enough students, but the issue is more complicated.
According to a STEMConnector report, “The STEM Paradox,” there are gaps and loopholes when it comes to today’s STEM education system, and there aren’t enough incentives to push students further. For instance, there is a shortage of soft skills. STEM education today emphasizes stale learning and memorization, which often results in graduates who need help applying the concepts.
The problem requires a prominent and a holistic solution that would encourage other external stakeholders. There is a need for an ecosystem of government policies, incentives, and cultural revamp to create the necessary circumstances for students to seek, acquire, and employ STEM skills proactively.
Pay isn’t the gap, it’s skills.
STEM graduates start with higher wages because they learn job-relevant skills in school. But as time goes on, new technologies replace the skills and tasks that older graduates learn, so their wages grow more slowly, and they leave the STEM workforce altogether.
The progress of the STEM skill landscape remains hazy. The market forces driving this revolution are the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented and virtual reality, and blockchain. STEM skills are in short supply, not the workers themselves.
Today’s jobs and skill sets may not apply to tomorrow’s skills. Data suggests that 65% of today’s students will work in a future workforce with jobs that have yet to be invented. This means it is not only money that is important for attracting STEM talent. You must value upskilling and reskilling, evaluate your employees’ learning opportunities in exchange for what they provide to the company, and promote more than just salary.
STEM talent is now global
While the demand for STEM professionals continues to rise, another conundrum arises. The geographic location of skilled professionals complicates the STEM skills gap even further.
For example, the United States has slumped to third place in the world in STEM graduate production, trailing India and China. Geographic barriers also impede job access in areas where STEM jobs are plentiful. Many STEM hubs are geographically separated from qualified job seekers, necessitating the need to import skilled talent from other regions despite the presence of a local population.
A report published by the New York Academy of Science noted that Korea, Malaysia, and Rwanda are among the countries producing high-quality STEM talent. For instance, South Korea has made rapid progress by focusing on and investing in STEM. It looked beyond its borders to well-established STEM ecosystems such as Germany’s to model its approach. Furthermore, Malaysia is currently developing through STEM and is eager to learn from other countries. While Rwanda is still in the early stages of developing a solid STEM ecosystem, it has made significant economic and human progress in the last decade.
Based on the above, we can see that STEM talent is becoming dispersed across the world. This is because of a variety of factors, including the availability of educational and professional opportunities in emerging economies as well as government initiatives that support cultivating STEM talent.
Can something be done?
Many changes brought about by the pandemic have disrupted traditional hiring patterns; however they have paved the way for innovation in global hiring practices and have created a slew of new opportunities for businesses. For example, due to the stay-at-home orders mandated by the government, businesses have transitioned from physical to digital, which offered businesses a unique opportunity to push the button forward to digital innovation. This period of innovation helped build confidence among businesses to introduce change boldly and fearlessly.
The talent shortage in STEM careers is a complex issue and would require cross-functional efforts from organizations, policymakers, and society. However, if companies take the first step in raising awareness on the importance of STEM, broadening their hiring approach by providing incentives to retain STEM workers, and addressing the educational and developmental challenges current professionals face. They can help shape and create an environment full of opportunities for the STEM landscape in the future.