Manufacturing, STEM Skills

STEM skills shortage hurts the manufacturing and electronics industries

STEM skills are the four pillars of innovation; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM influences almost every aspect of our lives. We’re surrounded by science on a daily basis, and technology continues to evolve at an extraordinary rate, becoming more and more integral in our everyday lives. Globalization has heightened the need for well-rounded STEM skills in a landscape that is becoming increasingly competitive.

Economies that have a healthy population of people with STEM skills can expect to realize a wide range of positive economic indicators. Everything from job growth, employment rates, exports, patenting, and wages usually experience accelerated growth in STEM-based economies.

STEM Skills Shortage

Is there a STEM skills shortage in the U.S.? Yes. Does that mean the U.S. is failing to produce a skilled STEM labor force? That one’s a little more tricky. The answer is yes and no. While there is certainly a STEM crisis of sorts taking place in the U.S., it’s more a question of job availability than the availability of STEM skills.

The presence of STEM skills varies greatly from discipline to discipline. If you examine the number of workers with biology PhD’s looking to become professors you’ll find there’s a surplus of skills. However, nuclear and electrical engineering Ph. D fields are experiencing skill shortages. From 2000 to 2013 STEM-based occupations saw an average salary increase of between 4% and 8%, indicating the shortage of skills drove an increase in salary incentives.

Importance of STEM Skills for Innovation

Some studies have found that the biggest individual factor creating a gap in STEM skills is that qualified job-seekers are “highly sought-after in all fields”. That sounds like a good thing, right? While it sounds positive, this also means that the vast majority of STEM-skilled people avoid the highly competitive STEM landscape in order to find jobs in other sectors. In fact, 90% of all students who earn Bachelor’s Degrees with a STEM major never work in STEM.

This significant skills gap is sure to affect innovation. Scientific research, technological inventions and improvements, and countless other STEM elements influence the U.S. economy. Without innovation, technologies and processes become obsolete, leading to loss of jobs and the evolution or demise of industries. To maintain their position as leaders in STEM, the U.S. will need to invest significant amounts of money, talent, and time to transform the educational arm of STEM.

The Future of STEM Education

There are two main issues facing the future of STEM education in the U.S. today:

  • Lack of STEM-Skilled Teachers – It’s impossible to offer a good STEM education without the right instruction.
  • Extending STEM Programs to Young Students – Students aren’t being introduced to STEM educational elements at young enough ages to instill a solid STEM foundation.

This means that for sectors growing at accelerated rates, such as technology, there will be an abundance of jobs that the U.S. workforce won’t be able to fulfill. In order to sustain STEM growth in industries with a skilled workforce, greater emphasis must be placed on STEM education.

Fortunately, the STEM crisis in the U.S. is not going completely unnoticed. The American Institutes for Research for the U.S. Department of Education’s STEM Initiatives Team released a 10-year vision for STEM, known as the STEM 2026 report. In this report, they stated that “STEM education disparities threaten the nation’s ability to close education and poverty gaps, meet the demands of a technology-driven economy, ensure national security, and maintain preeminence in scientific research and technological innovation.”

Turning back the tide of down-trending STEM jobs in the U.S. will require widespread educational reform and support. Introducing children to STEM principles as early as preschool will allow them to develop interests early-on. Focusing on problem-solving life skills, such as scarcity of water and food, can be used to encourage innovation. Once STEM skills are encouraged and easily-accessible, the U.S. will begin to experience job growth that matches the potential of their workforce.

What This Means for Industry in the U.S.

Over the last four decades, manufacturing has gone through a massive technology evolution. This has completely changed the landscape of jobs in the manufacturing industry. Highly skilled labor is required to operate newer technologies. Because changes to the industry have occurred rapidly, manufacturing is facing a deficit of skilled labor. In the last decade, U.S. manufacturers have begun searching for skilled labor from outside countries to fill the massive gap in STEM skill availability. To put this in perspective, in 2014 there were 5 job openings for every unemployed computer specialist in U.S.

As the industry continues to evolve, it’s becoming harder to find job candidates possessing qualified STEM skills. Due to the severity of the STEM skills shortage in manufacturing, many experts believe that focusing on STEM education should be the most important driver for the U.S. education system.