President Barack Obama talks with Deidre Carrillo of San Antonio, Texas, about her electric car project during the 2014 White House Science Fair on May 27. The annual event recognizes student achievements in science, technology, engineering and math competitions from across the United States. (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)

STEM Shortage Is Most Acute for Manufacturers

Aug. 5, 2014
Manufacturers have a tougher time filling science, tech, engineering and math-related job vacancies than other sectors, according to a new study.

The shortage of job candidates who have STEM skills has grown so pronounced that, by one prominent measuring stick, high school grads with STEM backgrounds are now in higher demand in the job market than college graduates who don't have STEM skills.

That's a key finding of a new Brookings Institution report, "Still Searching: Job Vacancies and STEM Skills."

The report's author, Brookings analyst Jonathan Rothwell, says the study found that STEM job openings requiring only a high school diploma or college associate degree take an average of 40 days to fill, whereas non-STEM job openings that require a bachelor's degree take an average of 37 days to fill.

The data also show that manufacturing companies have greater difficulty filling STEM job vacancies than other types of businesses. The follwing index shows graphic evidence of that disparity:

"What we're seeing is that the manufacturing sector in general has a harder time filling vacancies than other sectors," Rothwell says. "And it seems that it's particulary a problem for the manufacturing industries that do more research and development, and have greater needs for STEM workers."

To help alleviate the problem and shield their companies against the impact of the STEM skill shortage, Rothwell recommends that manufacturers re-examine their hiring practices to make sure they are up to date with changes in the ways people are acquiring STEM skills.

"There may be ways to bring people in to get a particular skill, or a computer language, even if they haven't acquired the formal degree that is normally associated with it," Rothwell says. "For example, there has been a proliferation of online learning opportunities over the last few years through 'MOOCs' [massive open online courses] and other organizations that provide online access to university classes."

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