In the wake of the Economic Policy Institute report alleging that the STEM worker shortage is a myth, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has produced a new look at the unemployment statistics, major by major.
The report is mostly an update of earlier research. After all, we've known for a while that college grads fare better than high school grads, and that in general, STEM majors face lower unemployment and receive higher salaries than their friends in the liberal arts and social sciences overall. We've even known for a while that the toughness of the initial job market depends on your major.
But in light of the EPI report, which focused preponderantly on IT as a representative of all STEM degrees, it's worth taking a look at this data, to see the differences between different STEM majors. And truthfully, information systems isn't doing that hot. In fact, it's the major that shows the highest rate of unemployment.
Why -- after all, isn't a STEM major the magic pill to job security and economic prosperity?
First, the affects of the recession cannot be overstated: employment in all sectors, for all levels of experience, suffered in the last several years. This recession still reverberates throughout the economy, affecting employment numbers and making it difficult for new grads to get the first job, when more-experienced, but unemployed, workers are competing for the same jobs.
But the truth is -- as has been said before -- not all STEM majors are considered equal. Some, like software development, build skills that employers can't get enough of right now. Others, like engineering, teach direct skills that are appealing in a variety of professions. But others, like information systems, are vulnerable to broader trends like outsourcing.
The skills and knowledge taught in an IS program don't translate to engineering -- or vice versa. While a freshly minted humanities graduate might be able to show that a political science degree is just as valuable as an English degree when it comes to teaching writing skills, the skills in STEM aren't nearly as malleable. They all, by and large, have a foundation in logic, critical thinking, and problem solving, but the very skills that make most STEM degrees so in-demand -- their high level of specialized knowledge -- also make it more difficult for STEM workers to slide from one STEM-centric field to another. STEM skills and workers aren't widget employees. Unfortunately, that means that hiring in information right now (and potentially for the next several years) is much slower than hiring for those with the skills to write new programs and design software applications.
When the data is scrutinized, though, it's clear that STEM is still a strong career path. Unemployment among those with experience and advanced education is less than half the unemployment rate for new grads, a greater drop than in fields like business, the arts, and education. At 3.0, 2.1 and 3.6 percent, respectively, unemployment for advanced-degree holders in engineering, science and computers/mathematics is lower than in almost all other fields. STEM is still a strong choice, it's important to see which major offers the strongest bang for your buck.