On NPR's Science Friday last week, a panel of senior science administrators, an 8th grade science teacher and a lone economist discussed the US' STEM labor pool. I'd say that the panel was mostly focused on "STEM shortage", with only Dr. Lindsay Lowell from Georgetown presenting actual data about the travails of STEM workers. The hour discussion (in a public forum) was a mishmash of really good points and the typical STEM cliches that have marred the debate (Sputnik, STEM enthusiasm, subtly bashing your political opponents, etc.) But there was a nice discussion by an audience member about the STEM is TE concept:
Audience member: I'm curious about the panel's opinion on advancing all STEM education versus picking winners in a sense. That is, STEM, we lump it all together. But it's very broad, engineering is very different than chemistry and math and whatever. My impression is that the need in those different industries at the present moment probably differ quite a bit in terms of workforce, and so I'd like to know whether they feel that advancing all STEM education is a fundamentally important goal or we should be targeting certain areas.
Flatow: That's a good question. Lindsay, you found in your report that there were some areas that were open to having more graduates in it, like the biological sciences, that there were shortages in some areas.
Dr. Lowell: Well, petroleum engineering is one area where wages are rising and more students are going into it. And that to me is part of the prior question as well. No, I don't think it would be a good idea to target particular disciplines unless it was very clear it was needed, say, nursing in the United States. But the uh, the market really sends signals. We know the cyclical flow of students through the engineering pipeline follows wages. You can talk about upping supply, but it's not really going to get you what you want unless you stimulate demand, and that's what the gentleman next to me has a lot of major ideas as well. My major message to you is that it's a demand-driven system, it's what we've got. So the best way to have people get into the disciplines that are needed is to have the wage lead the way.
Well said, Dr. Lowell.