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Despite Growing Demand, Most STEM Graduates Work in Other Fields

July 17, 2014

About 74 percent of U.S. residents with a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are not employed in STEM occupations, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. While STEM graduates are less likely to be unemployed, they generally find careers outside of science and technology. As detailed in a recent SSTI Digest article, many employers are having difficulty filling STEM positions, with the average STEM job posting lasting twice as long as other jobs before being filled. An update to the ongoing Pathways to Prosperity project describes some successful efforts around the country in improving the pipeline of students headed into STEM jobs.

Among U.S. residents with a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, only 25.7 percent currently work in a STEM occupation, according to the Census Bureau data. In calculating this percentage, the bureau includes STEM graduates who work in a STEM field other than the one in which they received a degree. They do not, however, include STEM graduates who now work in “STEM-related” occupations. STEM-related fields include architecture, health care and other careers that involve some degree of STEM knowledge.

Graduates who received their degrees in engineering and in computer, math and statistics majors were most likely to work in STEM occupations. About half of these graduates went on to hold STEM jobs as of 2012. Science majors tend to seek employment elsewhere. Only about 26 percent of physical science majors now hold STEM jobs. That number is 15 percent for bioscience, environmental science and agricultural science majors. Only 10 percent of psychology majors and 7 percent of social science majors found jobs in a STEM field.

In 2012, STEM majors in Maryland, Washington and Virginia were most likely to hold STEM jobs.

Read the Census Bureau release…

The Census data does not necessarily indicate an oversupply of STEM graduates or a difficult STEM hiring market, according to a Washington Post article. Rather, it reflects a combination of several recent trends that have steered graduates away from STEM careers. Many jobs now require basic science and technology skills, creating a much larger pool of opportunities for STEM graduates. A significant portion of these graduates pursue jobs outside the traditional definition of STEM occupations, but use their advanced skills on a daily basis. Also, the broad scope of STEM can be misleading. Many occupations do face a labor shortage, but fields produce more graduates than jobs.

Building a U.S. workforce capable of fulfilling the needs of high-tech companies will require a better pipeline of students through STEM programs and into STEM careers, according to a report from the Pathways to Prosperity Network. The network, launched in 2011, is an initiative of Jobs for the Future and the Harvard Graduate School of Education that advocates for alternative approaches to preparing students for the 21st Century labor market. The network currently includes eight state members – California, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Tennessee – that are developing pathways to skilled jobs outside of four-year programs.

A new progress report from the initiative details efforts in those eight member states to design programs that can train non-bachelor’s holders to fill the STEM positions left open by the flow of STEM college graduates to other fields. The network highlights both state level and regional investments in vocational, technical and community college oriented programs.

Featured efforts include the Illinois Pathways program, which has brought together academic and industry partners in nine STEM career clusters to develop career pathways in high schools across the state, and the Innovation High School program in Missouri, which allows students to earn college credit while training in advanced manufacturing, health sciences and information technology.

Download The Pathways to Prosperity Network: State Progress Report, 2012-2014

stem, higher ed