Not just STEM — need more graduates, period

August 24, 2010 at 10:44 am 3 comments

A report that came out in June goes beyond studies showing that we’re lacking STEM students, or even CS students, but educated students at all.  But I’m cynical.  Is there really a lack of employees (especially given current unemployment rates), or are employers less likely to hire and more picky who they take?  Will generating more graduates really satisfy the identified gap?

The United States economy is in serious danger from a growing mismatch between the skills that will be needed for jobs being created and the educational backgrounds (or lack thereof) of would-be workers. That is the conclusion of a mammoth analysis of jobs data being released today by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The new report says that the United States is “on a collision course with the future” since far too few Americans complete college. Specifically, the report says that by 2018, the economy will have jobs for 22 million new workers with college degrees, but, based on current projections, there will be a shortage of 3 million workers who have some postsecondary degree (associate or higher) and of 4.7 million workers who have a postsecondary certificate.

via News: A Jobs Mismatch – Inside Higher Ed.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lisa Kaczmarczyk  |  August 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    My unscientific opinion is that employers are getting pickier b/c they feel they can. I had several terrific students graduate a year ago, really top notch “above and beyond” students from different engineering disciplines primarily (not CS unfortunately). Some are going to graduate schools, but those that seek employment are having a very hard time. I’m still in touch with several very talented, creative, prepared students who are still unemployed. Also, I have heard from some people mid career who have been laid off and have tried to do a lateral shift, that they are having trouble convincing companies that they have “transferable skills”. They are hearing (when they hear anything) that the companies want direct experience and aren’t so interested in someone with related experience.

  • 2. Erik Engbrecht  |  August 24, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I think somewhere along the line someone got the idea that the key to quality is quantity. You take a whole huge pile of stuff and sift out what you want. The more stuff you have to sift, the more likely it contains something you want. This can be great when you only pay for the stuff you want.

    Of course in reality I think this is highly problematic…

    Think about the problem of predicting a student’s performance in CS1. Employers face a very similar problem in hiring employees. In times like this, when there are a lot of people looking for work and employers are on tight budgets and can’t afford hiring a dud, employers are going to be very picky.

  • 3. Mark Miller  |  August 26, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    There are a bunch of factors that go into this. Since you brought up your earlier article about how employers are narrowing their focus on who they want, I’ll just say that I finally gave up trying to rationalize what employers wanted in IT several years ago, or at least I took what their want ads said with some large grains of salt. I remember 19 years ago hearing a CS professor joke about a company asking for someone with “4 years experience with the Ada language” when the language had only been around for 2 years. This was common. It was going on the whole time I was in the field. What career services told us undergraduates was basically, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Make connections with people on the inside. Find ways to get around HR (though don’t totally circumvent them). IMO this is crucial advice for those trying to get into IT, because in most cases the people in HR departments (and they’re the ones who usually write up the want ads) don’t understand IT at all. At best they pattern match on the buzzwords, and this causes them to pass over many qualified candidates. Besides, what career counselors have said consistently over the years is that the jobs you find through making connections are usually the most satisfying and career-fulfilling, no matter what field you’re in.

    One method I heard about and tried, with some measure of success, is to do industry research. Try to get your hands on publications (journals perhaps) that talk about the industry you’re interested in getting into. Then try to set up informal lunches (say, “I’m just doing industry research.”) with the hiring managers of companies in that field, and ask them informed questions about what’s going on, without getting too specific about their business. Bring a resume to give to the hiring manager at the end, but DO NOT try to turn the luncheon into a job interview. That will likely turn them off to you. On the other hand if the hiring manager turns it into an interview, by all means… Just let them know you’re available. I did this a couple times. It did not lead to a job with the people I talked to, but I got some insights into what’s going on in the field. That helped focus my efforts, and it eventually led to work.

    On the other matter of “are there enough graduates?”, what you talk about here and another article I see you wrote back in July (saying there is no shortage) reminds me of an article Philip Greenspun wrote or referenced many years ago, saying that there was an oversupply of scientists, most of whom flame out in their 40s after having failed to obtain tenure. I can’t remember which one it is now. I find his website on this topic difficult to navigate. And I try not to look at it for too long, because it’s too depressing. I keep in mind that his dark humor is tongue in cheek.

    He also referenced an article which said that there was a culture in scientific academia which said that any position that wasn’t academic wasn’t worth having, but that scientists should broaden their career prospects to consider working in the private sector. I wonder about the wisdom of that now, given that the “toxic assets” that have wreaked so much havoc on our economy (mostly because most people haven’t been able to understand how they work) were created by physicists who worked in the financial sector. This presumably happened because a) it paid better, and b) it probably beat trying to find work as a physicist.


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