Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Is STEM a SCAM? Are all those predictions of future technology jobs really legit?

There are two kinds of economic obsessions and both involve attempts at prophecy: The first involves predictions that the economic End is Near; the second involves someone telling us what the economy will need in the future. The STEM movement is an example of the latter.

We are now in the midst of the STEM craze. We are told, with religious zeal, that the economy will need STEM jobs in the coming years. Millions of dollars are now being spent to promote STEM education--just like I was told in college that your future job prospects were in learning Fortran and Pascal.

Watch for the 21st century economic equivalent of the 17th century tulip craze in Holland.

In a recent article in IEEE Spectrum (as well as in several other articles), Robert N. Charette points out a few facts about STEM that its advocates aren't talking about:
You must have seen the warning a thousand times: Too few young people study scientific or technical subjects, businesses can’t find enough workers in those fields, and the country’s competitive edge is threatened.

... And yet, alongside such dire projections, you’ll also find reports suggesting just the opposite—that there are more STEM workers than suitable jobs. One study found, for example, that wages for U.S. workers in computer and math fields have largely stagnated since 2000. Even as the Great Recession slowly recedes, STEM workers at every stage of the career pipeline, from freshly minted grads to mid- and late-career Ph.D.s, still struggle to find employment as many companies, including Boeing, IBM , and Symantec , continue to lay off thousands of STEM workers.  
 ... Another surprise was the apparent mismatch between earning a STEM degree and having a STEM job. Of the 7.6 million STEM workers counted by the Commerce Department, only 3.3 million possess STEM degrees. Viewed another way, about 15 million U.S. residents hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a STEM discipline, but three-fourths of them—11.4 million—work outside of STEM. The departure of STEM graduates to other fields starts early. In 2008, the NSF surveyed STEM graduates who’d earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 2006 and 2007. It found that 2 out of 10 were already working in non-STEM fields .And 10 years after receiving a STEM degree, 58 percent of STEM graduates had left the field , according to a 2011 study from Georgetown University. The takeaway? At least in the United States, you don’t need a STEM degree to get a STEM job, and if you do get a degree, you won’t necessarily work in that field after you graduate. If there is in fact a STEM worker shortage, wouldn’t you expect more people with STEM degrees to be filling those jobs? And if many STEM jobs can be filled by people who don’t have STEM degrees, then why the big push to get more students to pursue STEM? 
Read the rest here.

1 comment:

Josh said...

One very common reason for the call to STEM-oriented degrees that I see is the hyper-liberal orientation of the humanities in most colleges. I think a true classical university education is something that is impossible to attain in most universities, where a commitment to modern liberalism has primacy.

STEM allows people to participate in the economy (as a computer science major, I can say with confidence that the demand for more computer engineers is not being met by the supply). It also prevents people from being indoctrinated or paying a lot of money to people they don't deem worthy of being educators in the truest sense.

It is a complicated issue. I appreciate the perspective in the article as well. I agree with the stagnation of wages, which I have observed. But as far as job availability goes, I see a lot of positions unfilled (at least in my particular industry).

I would love to go to a system of apprenticeship instead of trade schools or "training" programs, and save universities for what the were designed for; but I don't think this is possible given who runs most universities these days.