Friday, February 7, 2014

Including health care as "STEM jobs" is a huge distortion

Thanks to a handy link from @belehaa, the US Census Bureau's definition of STEM, as it applies to occupations (emphases mine):
...In April 2012, the Standard Occupational Classification Policy Committee, a consortium of nine federal agencies charged with standardizing occupational definitions, issued a recommended STEM occupation classification. This classification places workers into three primary occupational domains: STEM, STEM-related, and non-STEM. STEM includes computer workers, engineers, mathematicians and statisticians, life scientists, physical scientists, and social scientists. STEM-related includes architects and health care workers. Non-STEM includes all other occupations. This classification is designed to make comparisons of the STEM workforce more consistent across federal agencies and organizations....
So, who do we have in the STEM PR wars this week? Burning Glass Technologies, which released this report on "entry level STEM jobs" this week, redefining "STEM" not as what the occupation is traditionally known for, but by the skills asked for in job postings:
...For this analysis, we have taken a job seeker- and student-centric approach to defining STEM occupations. We define STEM jobs as those that have substantial math and science requirements included within the standard course of training or as part of the qualifications that employers specifically request in postings. This contrasts with traditional methodologies which tend to focus only on jobs that are primarily engaged in scientific, mathematical, or technological activity.  
STEM jobs cover the following areas: Science, Information Technology, Engineering, Math (labeled here as Analysts) and Healthcare. Unlike many traditional definitions of STEM jobs, we have included those clinical healthcare roles which require that job seekers undertake substantial coursework in the biological sciences to qualify. Additionally, we have included a range of “analyst” jobs such as Data Analysts, Logistics Analysts and Business Intelligence Analysts, which call for significant mathematics training. These analyst jobs represent a far larger portion of the demand for mathematics skills in the labor market than traditional “math” roles such as Statisticians or Actuaries.  
In order to provide the most relevant comparison for job seekers, we compare STEM jobs that require a Bachelor’s degree or higher to all other jobs at those degree levels. We compare Sub-BA STEM jobs to other sub-baccalaureate jobs that typically require post-secondary training or provide career advancement opportunities.
Well, when you decide to include the one-sixth of the American economy that was more or less excluded before, you suddenly get very different results. Moreover, what is truly hilarious is that the "S" part of "STEM" gets really, really small according to their numbers*:

Credit: Burning Glass Technologies
What's more absurd, of course, is that when you broaden the definition of "STEM" and "entry-level", you start getting some really crazy things included:

To categorize medical assistants and registered nurses as "STEM jobs" is quite a stretch of the term "STEM" in my opinion. While, yes, nursing is far more biochemically-oriented than years past, I don't think nurses see themselves as "STEM workers." To categorize physicians (even wet-nosed new medical school graduates) as "entry-level" doesn't pass the laugh test. Moreover, that's one of the top occupations for this categorization!

Of course, the STEM shortage mythologists at U.S. News and World Report are there to happily transcribe, with the article titled "Report: STEM Job Market Much Larger Than Previously Reported":
The demand for students trained in science, technology, engineering and math fields may be significantly larger than previous studies have estimated, according to new data from Burning Glass Technologies. The new analysis of millions of job postings found there were 5.7 million openings in STEM fields in 2013, 4.4 million of which required at least a bachelor's degree and 2.3 million of which were entry-level jobs that call for less than two years of experience.  
"The market for STEM jobs is bigger, actually significantly bigger, than most other studies have reported in the past," says Burning Glass Chief Executive Officer Matt Sigelman. "We also found that graduates in STEM fields have much better prospects, both because they are competing for a large number of jobs...but also because they make substantially more."...**
I await the report from Burning Glass that reports that the market for professional football players is much larger than expected, when you include the Arena Football League and the possibility that entry-level football players can use their transferrable skills to sell insurance.

(There are other places where this redefinition has been used in the past -- Change the Equation, another pro-STEM PR organization is one of them. I addressed their attempt to obfuscate this issue in the past, also by slipping in the health care field into their calculations.)

Naturally, I find this extremely frustrating. That there are lots of high-paying jobs in health care is not news! That there are jobs that use math skills (like data analysts) -- also, not really news. And yet, our business, media and educational elites cannot bear to say what the data really shows: that most actual STEM job growth is in computers and other electronic/information technology, and that science has little to do with it.***

*According to Burning Glass Technologies, there were 6,807 entry-level chemist positions advertised online in 2013. Bluntly put, I don't believe it, but I haven't seen the data. (For example, how many of those positions are duplicated? What counts?)

**Read later in the article where he refers to CNC machine tool programmers as a high-demand field. No s__t, Sherlock. 

***That is not to say, of course, that we should stop kids who are interested in science from pursuing it. We should just quit lying to them about the opportunities available. 


  1. I think my greatest regret in life will be that I was very interested in science (particularly chemistry and molecular biology) but not very good at doing much of anything else.

    Whats worse, everybody thinks you should be making tons of money, and if you dont, it looks like there is something really wrong with you.

    This can bring about a lot of misery, unless you have a thick skin.

  2. One problem may be that US Blues and World Disorder is owned by Mort Zuckerman,. who really, really, REALLY believes that there is a STEM worker shortage, as judged by what he says on the McLaughlin group. If frustrates me that such a bright guy could be so misinformed.

  3. By their definition, cashier should qualify as a sub-BA primarily mathematical STEM job.

    There, I just created 4 million more entry-level jobs in the field.

  4. This is fitting in a way, because health care is a career where scientifically minded people can actually earn money. If people actually look at this type of report in any detail, they will come away with the correct impression that health care is where the jobs are, and the pure sciences are a small throwaway consideration.

    1. That is actually a great point and something that I don't understand why people cannot simply say. "The lucrative jobs of the future are in health care and computers, full stop."

      Politicians and business people seem to need to spin tales about innovation, STEM and competitiveness, blah blah. It's a mess.

    2. Science isn't expected to make money, but to lead to useful ideas for people who can. Health care and computers, on the other hand, are businesses (with companies making lots of money doing them) - thus, complaining that businesses need help to attract people to work for them (because they don't want to pay them enough) is much less attractive as a story than science (who people may see as much less profit-driven and thus worthy of help).

      Science in STEM is camoflage for businesses that want cheap labor but can't ask for it with straight faces.