STEM-ing the Tide of Long-Term Unemployment

Strengthening STEM knowledge prepares students for the lucrative, high-demand jobs of the future.

Although there’s been some good news about the unemployment rate, long-term unemployment continues to make headlines. According to a recent USA Today article, approximately 3 million people, or 30.4 percent of the unemployed, were out of work for 27 weeks or longer as of last month—down from an all-time high of 48 percent in 2010 but still the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track.

Amid this (mostly discouraging) news comes a new report from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program highlighting the ongoing shortage of workers in STEM fields.

Using data from labor market analysis firm Burning Glass, the report analyzed the skill requirements and ad duration for millions of job postings. It concluded that positions in STEM fields take longer to fill than positions in other fields. In fact, the average STEM vacancy was advertised for twice as long as a non-STEM vacancy.

In addition, more jobs were posted in STEM fields relative to available workers. For every unemployed computer worker, the study discovered, there were five job openings; for every unemployed health care worker, 3.3 job openings; and for architectural/engineering and science professionals, 1.7 and 1.1 job openings, respectively.

To put those figures in perspective, there were only 0.7 openings for every legal professional in need of work and only 0.2 and 0.1 for out-of-work production and construction workers, respectively—meaning fewer jobs to go around than the number of unemployed professionals in those fields.

Among all major job types, computer skills were associated with the highest salaries and longest ad durations.

In the Pittsburgh metro area specifically, more than one-third—37.3 percent—of the 14,252 ads for job openings in the first quarter of 2013 required STEM skills, according to the Brookings report.

“These indicators,” the report explained, “signal that STEM skills are in short supply in the labor market, relative to demand.”

According to Forbes, recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree and less than three years of experience in their industry earn an average of $39,700 a year. In-demand STEM professionals can earn more than double that. The top-paying STEM job for a four-year college grad with three years or fewer experience, petroleum engineer, has a median annual salary of $88,700. Average pay for nuclear engineers, the second-highest paying STEM job for recent college grads, is $62,900. And the third-highest-paying job for new grads, marine engineer, clocks in at an average annual salary of $62,200.

Even without a four-year degree, STEM jobs pay well. Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree, according to “The Hidden STEM Economy,” a 2013 report by Brookings, and these jobs pay $53,000 on average—a wage 10 percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements. These jobs could include those in the green economy, for example, such as doing electrical retrofits of buildings or residential energy efficiency jobs, or the many technician jobs in health care.

“Even though the job market for STEM positions is white hot,” the article said, “there is still a dearth of new graduates in these fields relative to other fields like business and humanities. This strong demand combined with the limited supply work together to drive up the pay for these positions.”

So, as many workers struggle to find work, employers in STEM-related industries struggle to find workers and will pay generously for them.

Remake Learning’s work in fostering learning innovation in the region is helping to prepare students for this evolving career landscape.

Providing students with opportunities to gain STEM skills not only prepares them for future careers in those fields, it also helps them develop critical thinking skills—and that will put them in good stead for whatever the future job market holds.

Photo/ Steve Jurvetson

Published July 17, 2014