STEM Beats - February 2015

Where are the young STEM workers?

February 27, 2015

If you’d rather not move into your parents’ basement after you finish college, a degree in a STEM subject like computing or engineering is a pretty good bet. CTEq research reveals that, between 2011 and 2014, unemployment among recent college graduates with bachelor’s degrees or higher in computing was just 4.5 percent. Among newly-minted engineers: only 2.2 percent.  In non-STEM fields, by contrast, unemployment for recent grads with bachelor’s or higher stood at 7.0 percent. As our Vital Signs data make clear, unemployment for STEM professionals remained low  throughout the recession. So why, then, hasn’t there been a bigger surge in the numbers of STEM workers younger than 25?

Our most recent STEM Vital Signs brief, Solving the Diversity Dilemma, offers new data on the aging STEM workforce. A closer look at some of those data reveals that, despite cultural myths about digital natives in hoodies taking over workplaces across America, young STEM professionals are a scarce commodity. For example:.

  • between 2001 and 2014, the number of non-STEM workers under 25 dropped about 6 percent while the 55 and older set grew by about 52 percent.
  • among Engineers, the contrast was much more stark: those under 25 dropped 18 percent while those 55 and older gained 52 percent.
  • among Computer workers, those under 25  fell by 14 percent while those 55 and older gained 77 percent.

Demographics are partly to blame. America is getting older, and so is the workforce. Yet that doesn’t explain why the trend should be hitting the engineering and computing professions especially hard. STEM workers under 25 have seen some gains over the past 5 years, as the economy has improved: 8 percent in engineering and 11 percent in computing. But they are still far from reclaiming the position they held at the beginning of this century. There’s no denying it: the computing and engineering workforce has aged more quickly than the workforce as a whole. That spells trouble for employers, who need to be cultivating the next generation of tech innovators.

So what’s keeping more young people from going into STEM? Unemployment rates are low, salaries are high, and American students are doing no worse in math and science now than they were in 2001. At least one reason for the decline may be student interest. High schoolers’ interest in majoring in STEM fields is substantially lower than it was in 2001. It has picked up a bit since cratering around 2004, but surveys show that most American youth are not dreaming of lucrative STEM careers. In fact, interest among female and African American students, who are woefully underrepresented in STEM fields, has been declining.

Employers eager for young STEM talent have to compete with each other to get the people they want. Many companies are realizing that they need build greater enthusiasm for STEM jobs in K-12, before students leave the STEM pathway. That's one reason why we're delighted that CTEq members are rallying around the goal of bringing inspiring STEM education opportunities to at least 1.5 million more K-12 students in 2015. 

* To calcluate workforce data for this blog, CTEq analyzed data provided by Economic Modeling Specialists Interational (EMSI) in December 2014. ( 
Tags: jobs & workforce, engineering, computer science

Young? Ambitious? Go into Manufacturing!

February 26, 2015

Manufacturing doesn’t leap to mind as an industry that attracts young people. Yet recent workforce data show that advanced manufacturing, which requires strong STEM skills, has become a magnet for young workers just starting out in their careers. This might point to a bright future for this maker industry—presuming a troubling lack of workforce diversity doesn’t stunt its growth. 

Manufacturing is beginning to shed its reputation as a dying industry in waning cities. Historic rust-belt cities like Detroit are experiencing a renaissance, largely because of manufacturing growth. (Our Top 5 posts highlight other metro areas where STEM talent is spurring economic vitality.)

Research for our latest Vital Signs brief, Solving the Diversity Dilemma, fleshes out the good news and the bad news for manufacturing on the workforce front. What’s most surprising is that young people are flocking into the industry—at much faster rates than into, say, computing or engineering. In advanced manufacturing, jobs held by the under-35 demographic have grown a stunning 20 percent since 2009. (Things were good, but not as good, for those 45 and older, with a 17 percent increase in jobs for that age group.) 

Bear in mind that advanced manufacturing took a big hit in the recession—hurting young and old alike before the rebound. Even so, the under-35 set accounted for a third of the rapid growth in industry jobs over the past five years. Few other professions can boast such occupational growth among younger workers.

Notably, this is happening at a time when the workforce as a whole is aging fast. In most occupations, job growth has skewed older over the past five or so years. Since 2009, the number of non-STEM jobs held by people over 45 grew by 8 percent, and by 6 percent for those younger than 35. The growth in computer science jobs was more pronounced—an indication that STEM jobs are in higher demand in the economy. Yet even there, computing jobs held by those 45 and older increased by 17 percent, compared to a 9 percent increase for those younger than 35. This finding challenges the meme that younger people are the digital natives.

The downside to the good news for young people in advanced manufacturing, as in other industries where STEM skills are in demand, is that the lack of workforce diversity could hold back innovation and growth. A decade and half into the 21st century, the share of African Americans and Latinos in the advanced manufacturing workforce has barely budged, inching up from 15 percent to 16 percent between 2001 and 2014. This doesn’t sync with the working-age population of African Americans and Latinos, which rose from 24 percent to 28 percent in this timeframe.

Likewise, women remain as scarce as ever in advanced manufacturing. Women made up only 18 percent of the industry’s workforce in 2014—slightly lower than their 19 percent share in 2001. At a time when the share of white and Asian men in the advanced manufacturing workforce has declined from 33 percent to 29 percent since 2001, that’s not a prescription for success.

As our brief points out, there is plenty of raw STEM talent among African Americans, Latinos, and girls in K–12 education, but lack of opportunities, confidence, or both discourages them from pursuing advanced STEM study or careers. To entice more of them to do so, CTEq member companies are expanding STEM learning opportunities, especially those selected for our STEMworks initiative to identify proven and promising STEM programs. 

Coupling our private-sector efforts with public-sector investments in the talent pipeline could address skills shortages and the lack of diversity in the advanced manufacturing industry.

Tags: jobs & workforce

Healthcare, the Lost STEM Workforce Discussion

February 25, 2015

STEM advocates beat the drums for more engineering and computer science talent, but the demand for STEM-savvy professionals in health care often fails to make it into the STEM discussion. Yet the healthcare industry is suffering from much—and perhaps more—of the talent shortage touted in other fields.

First, let’s look at reporting. Many of the most frequently cited data sources on STEM workforce shortages, such as the National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Indicators, are silent on the healthcare workforce. In fact, the much-cited U.S. Census Bureau report of 2014, which found that 75 percent of STEM college graduates do not work in STEM occupations, classified healthcare jobs as non-STEM occupations.

Hello? That’s millions of jobs requiring robust STEM credentials that are left out of the count in the STEM occupational equation. (You would want your doctors to know more than a smattering of math and science, wouldn’t you? They wouldn’t even make it through the door of medical school, after all, without a heavy dose of STEM coursework and high achievement in STEM subjects.)

Our latest Vital Signs brief Solving the Diversity Dilemma reveals that STEM employers face challenges on two related fronts: rising demand for talent and an aging workforce. The STEM healthcare workforce is no exception. (By “STEM healthcare workforce,” we mean healthcare occupations that require substantial STEM skills. These don’t include hospital orderlies or many home healthcare workers, for example.)

Many of the 20 fastest-growing occupations are in health care, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, including diagnostic and medical sonographers (projected to increase by 46 percent by 2022), physician assistants (38 percent) and prosthetists (36 percent). Overall, job growth in the STEM healthcare industry is projected at 19 percent by 2022—much faster than the projected 12 percent for non-STEM jobs. This translates to about 1.3 million more healthcare jobs in the next decade.

Ironically, health care may fall victim to the very demographic forces that are turning it into a boom industry. An aging U.S. population is fueling the demand for more health care, but healthcare workers are aging, too—and they are older, in fact, than the workforce as a whole.

Just look at these alarming data:

  • The percentage of STEM healthcare workers who are 55 and older has risen from 13 percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 2014—almost one-quarter of all workers. For non-STEM workers, the percentage of older workers increased from 14 percent to 20 percent.
  • The number of STEM healthcare workers aged 55+ has almost doubled since 2001—increasing by 91 percent from 2001 to 2014. For non-STEM workers, there’s been a 51 percent increase in the 55+ set over this time period.
  • Healthcare workers aged 45+ make up 51 percent of the STEM healthcare workforce, compared to 43 percent for non-STEM workers in this age group.  
  • The under-25 demographic took a bit hit during the recession and has yet to recover to pre-recession numbers.

The aging of the healthcare workforce can’t just be chalked up to the fact that it takes years of medical school and training to become a doctor, for example. The numbers are pretty much the same—if only slightly less daunting—for STEM healthcare occupations that generally require less than a four-year degree. Plenty of high-skilled, high-wage jobs can be had in healthcare with a two-year degree, specialized training or credentials.

Bottom line: We can expect a tidal wave of retirements from health care in the next 20 years—on top of the 1.3 million new jobs that are expected to be added to healthcare payrolls in the next decade. Clearly, the industry will need to find new talent fast.

This also amounts to opportunity for young people: The median hourly wage of roughly $36 for STEM healthcare workers amounts to more than $74,000 a year. We need to get young people excited by computing and engineering, to be sure. But let’s work to make sure that some of them use those skills to improve healthcare outcomes for Americans. And let’s use proven programs in our STEMworks database to show young people that STEM and healthcare are definitely not mutually exclusive.  

Tags: jobs & workforce

Tapping Into Hidden Talent

February 24, 2015

Change the Equation is excited to release ‘Solving the Diversity Dilemma’ our new Vital Signs brief. With generous support from CTEq member company Northrop Grumman, the brief proposes solutions to the critical and worsening lack of diversity in the STEM workforce.

The new brief presents exclusive information on just how bad the problem has become. We mined recent workforce data on engineering, advanced manufacturing, and computing to find that the nation’s STEM diversity dilemma has remained stagnant or even worsened since 2001. African Americans and Latinos have surged as a percentage of the U.S. population, but their share of critical STEM jobs has barely budged. Women also remain scarce in STEM jobs.

The nation’s female and minority youth are a rich vein of talent we have not fully tapped. Many girls and students-of-color start strong in school but lack the opportunities and encouragement to stay on a pathway to STEM careers. We’ve highlighted key solutions business leaders are adopting to expand the nation’s best STEM learning opportunities to many more young women and people of color. Learn more about the business community’s response to the STEM diversity dilemma in our brief.

Tags: Vital Signs, jobs & workforce, minorities, women & girls

STEM Behind-the-Scenes in the Film Industry

February 20, 2015

On Sunday, glamorous celebrities will vamp on the red carpet and a happy few will take home the ultimate bling—a gold statuette for an Oscar-winning performance. 

The achievements of luminous stars and visionary directors would be much diminished, however, if it weren’t for the STEM talent behind every movie. The world of cinema makes its magic from “some of the most awe-inspiring technologies in visual arts,” Motion Picture Association of America points out. Today, we salute the STEM stars behind the movies we all love!

Digital platforms and multimedia software, computer-generated special effects and 3D renderings, and advanced video, audio, and lighting technologies explain why STEM skills are highly valued in this non-traditional STEM industry. Get in Media lists dozens of film (and TV) careers in which STEM talent is expected. Here’s a sampling:

  • animators manipulate models created in the digital environment. Bringing models to life requires computer animation skills and a solid foundation in the arts—and anatomy, physiology and physics knowledge helps as well;
  • gaffers, or chief lighting technicians, are responsible for designing the lighting plan for each shot of a film, setting up lighting equipment, cables, generators and accessories, and managing the lighting crew. Knowledge of lighting technology and electricity are essential;
  • sound designers create, orchestrate and manipulate sound effects and audio tracks for films, from the dialogue and sound effects recording to the re-recording, or mix, of the final track. Expertise in sound recording and editing, and a firm understanding of acoustics and audio manipulation technology, such as software plug-ins, synthesizers and audio samplers, is expected; and
  • special effects supervisors create explosions, tidal waves and earthquakes—and any other atmospheric, mechanical and electrical effects dreamed up to keep you on the edge of your seat at the movie theater. A formal education in electrical or mechanical engineering, plus courses in physics, advanced mathematics and chemistry, are recommended. Training, and sometimes certification and licenses, may be required to handle explosives, high voltage, firearms, and other hazardous equipment and material and equipment. As Get in Media quips, special effects crews are the “mad scientists” of the industry. 

To really appreciate the difference that STEM talent makes to the movies, check out:

It’s worth noting that the demand for STEM talent in the movie business isn’t just a Hollywood phenomenon. The state of Georgia, for example, offers tax incentives to attract film producers to make movies there. But there’s a shortage of skilled workers who can “build the sets, run the wires or manage the sound” for such films as the final two “Hunger Games” blockbusters, says the Economist. And even moviemakers need more mainstream STEM talent, such as accountants to track and pay the bills.

In response, the state’s technical colleges are working with film studios to design specialized courses—and a state-run Georgia Film Academy, a partnership between the state’s university and technical college systems, is in the works, according to the Wall Street Journal.

* * *

Oscar week might inspire you to check out the STEM themes on the screen in this year’s crop of movies, including “The Theory of Everything,” a biopic of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, and “The Imitation Game,” the story of Alan Turing, the man who broke the Nazi Enigma code. Movies like these led USA Today to posit that “math and science whizzes are becoming cool at the movies” in Math and Science Go the Head of the Class at the Movies.

For great STEM-themed movies from the past, try these options:

Tags: engineering, technology