Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) seem to be all the rage these days. Schools are told to incorporate more math and science than ever before, higher education institutions are producing more STEM grads than ever before and companies are demanding more STEM workers than ever before. Is the constant drumbeat for STEM workers just a bunch of hype?
Between January 2012 and June 2013 there were 246,823 online job postings in health care, advanced manufacturing, and IT job postings in the state of Michigan. Generally speaking, these fields account for 25 percent of total job demand. Moreover, they are key drivers of the economy, accounting for high levels of economic prosperity and job creation.
Despite the importance of these industries to the economy, they continue to be under-resourced from a talent perspective, and a glimpse at college completion data reveals that there is no immediate end in sight. The table below compares statewide online job postings and 2012 graduates in selected STEM fields. According to the data on degree and certificate completions, health care had the lowest ratio of 2.5 postings per grad and IT had the highest with 15 postings per grad. IT employers, health care employers, skilled trades employers, and industrial design/engineering employers all need significantly more talent than what is available in the way of new graduates.
There are many important things to keep in mind when looking at the table’s comparisons. First, more digging must be done to understand if the types of degrees and certification within each large area of focus actually align with posted needs need. For example, just because people are getting degrees and certifications in health care does not mean they are doing so in the right areas. Are there enough nurses? Billers and coders? Within nursing, are there enough students specializing in pediatric and dementia care?
Second, not every posting represents a new job, nor does it require (or even desire) a new worker in the field. In fact, more often than not, employers want workers with at least several years of experience on the job. This explains why so many H1B visas awarded to foreign workers coming to Michigan are in computers and IT, health care and engineering. H1B workers often bring the combination of education and experience levels that employers need.
Third, the tables do not look at the current workforce available to fill some of the demand. What is known, however, is that employers express a constant struggle trying to find workers (new and experienced) with the skills they need. The demand for experienced workers, coupled with “not enough of them,” results in hiring churn, with workers moving from one opportunity to the next and employers frustrated over constantly finding and replacing talent.
Michigan will encounter even more churn — and greater skills gaps in STEM — as time marches on. Nearly 50 percent of the workers in IT, engineering/design and health care are over 45 years old. In IT and engineering, those aged 55 and older is approaching 20 percent. This means there will be wave of highly experienced workers leaving critical STEM fields with too few students in the pipeline behind them, either studying or gaining necessary experience.
So, yes, the demand for STEM workers continues and the current response is not enough. Michigan must take important policy steps to retain the talent we have, welcome new workers to our state and train our veterans, formerly incarcerated citizens, and long-term unemployed for these in-demand jobs. This includes a greater focus on career awareness and outreach (especially to nontraditional populations), experiential learning opportunities and career-contextual remediation efforts that encourage workers to participate STEM fields. The state’s business community and economic well-being, which relies heavily on STEM, depends on it.