STEM shortage: real; not real?

November 12, 2016 // By Bill Schweber
Bill Schweber ponders an old conundrum: is there a shortage of science and engineering graduates, or are scare stories written by vested interests wishing to stimulate the supply so that pay rates can be suppressed?

We've heard a lot over the past few years about the presumed shortage of students interested and skilled in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The phrase "STEM shortage" gets repeated so often that it has become accepted as fact, with all sorts of dubious data called up to support it.

In many cases, the shortage is claimed to be geographic, with some regions of the world focused on STEM topics, while students in other areas are spending their time on feel-good majors and "XYZ studies." The unfortunate joke is that they are really preparing for careers as baristas at Starbucks (not that there is anything wrong with that, of course). [ I don't think of barista as a person with a career, unless it is someone working in the British legal system, Ed. ]

Nevertheless, it's worth stepping back and asking: how real is the "shortage? Is it uniform or are there areas of both shortage and surplus? What's a "shortage", anyway?

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal , " Is There a STEM Crisis or a STEM Surplus? " explored the challenges of defining and assessing this STEM shortage, and to what extent it is real, if at all. The answers, in brief, fall along these lines: 1) it's yes, no, and maybe; 2) it depends in which specific area; and 3) it depends on the technical level as well.

The article also cited a 2013 article in IEEE Spectrum , The STEM Crisis Is a Myth , which made a strong case that there is no overall shortage. Part of the problem is that the industry needs are often out of synch with and academic programs. If an area is "hot," students flock to it, but by the time they have graduated and have some hands-on experience, that area may have cooled off considerably.

What really amazed me about the IEEE Spectrum article is the