STEM education and training

Workforce: STEM Gap Stems from Students Making Choices in a Void

Feb. 10, 2014
A report from Burning Glass Technologies indicates that U.S. manufacturing and related sectors have a long way to go to achieve President Obama's goal of "[training] Americans with the skills employers need and [matching] them to good jobs that need to be filled right now."

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama declared that we need "to train Americans with the skills employers need and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now."

Shining a stark light on that declaration, a report released last week by labor market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies indicates that the manufacturing industry and other related sectors have a long way to go to get into a position where they can start meeting that need.

The report, titled "Real-Time Insight into the Market for Entry-Level STEM Jobs," shows that U.S. students are not receiving the degrees and training required to fill today's entry-level jobs in fields related to STEM education—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Among the study's findings:

  • 48% of all entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher (BA+) are in STEM fields, while only 29% of bachelor’s degree graduates earn a STEM degree.
  • At the sub-bachelor’s level (sub-BA), 24% of entry-level jobs are in STEM fields, while 33% of sub-BA degrees are in STEM concentrations.  (Note: Sub-BA refers to associates degree or certificate.) 
  • In 2013, there were 2.3 million entry-level postings in STEM fields. 1.3 million were for BA+ jobs, and 1.0 million were for sub-BA jobs.
  • STEM jobs offer a substantial salary premium. The advertised salary for entry-level STEM jobs requiring a BA or higher is $66,123, compared to $52,299 for non-STEM jobs. This difference of approximately $14,000 represents a 26% premium. At the sub-BA level, the average entry-level salary is $47,856 for STEM jobs and $37,424 for non-STEM jobs. This difference of over $10,000 represents a 28% premium.

An Expanding Gulf

Clearly, these numbers evince a gap between the STEM expertise that employers want and the degrees and training that today's students are getting.

"In fact, we found that gap is closer to a gulf, and the gulf is widening," Burning Glass CEO Matthew Sigelman says. "And we also found that, as a result, employers are paying significant premiums for STEM graduates."

One might assume that those salary premiums would push students toward STEM-related fields of study. But that doesn't appear to be happening, at least not to the extent that manufacturers and other STEM-based employers would like to see. Why not?

Matt Sigelman ǀ CEO ǀ Burning Glass Technologies

"I think it reflects a lack of information," Sigelman says. "There are few sources of information for students to help them make smart choices about what to study. And absent good information, people tend to choose whatever seems interesting at the time. They're coming into college and they don't have much basis on which to decide. So it's not surprising that students make choices that may not serve their long-term interests.

"The point at which students start getting proximate enough to the job market to see those premiums—in many cases, it's already too late for them to move into STEM disciplines."

What can manufacturers do to help remedy this problem?

"A lot of it comes back to making sure that that information gets out there for students to make smarter choices," Sigelman says. "Employers need to involve themselves—both at a policy level, to make sure that there are good mechanisms for the distribution of job market information, and at the level of involvement with individual universities and other sources of talent.

"Whether that's by providing internships, or by helping students on those campuses understand the kinds of options that they're going to need to pursue. Across all of those dimensions—these are ways that employers can get involved."

Read the full report at

About the Author

Pete Fehrenbach | Pete Fehrenbach, Associate Editor

Focus:  Workforce  |  Chemical & Energy Industries  |  IW Manufacturing Hall of Fame

Follow Pete on Twitter: @PFehrenbachIW

Associate editor Pete Fehrenbach covers strategies and best practices in manufacturing workforce, delivering information about compensation strategies, education and training, employee engagement and retention, and teamwork. He writes a blog about workforce issue called Team Play.

Pete also provides news and analysis about successful companies in the chemical and energy industries, including oil and gas, renewable and alternative.

In addition, Pete coordinates the IndustryWeek Manufacturing Hall of Fame, IW’s annual tribute to the most influential executives and thought leaders in U.S. manufacturing history.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!