Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Like music to my ears: Vox on STEM

From the comments and also via Twitter, Vox's Danielle Kurtzleben looks at the STEM shortage debate and comes away with a couple of great quotes. From STEM shortage skeptic Hal Salzman:
..."STEM makes no sense as a category. What you have is science and engineering, and then you have this IT labor force," says Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University. "It's a non-differentiated category that makes no analytic sense." 
[snip]  
"Frankly, if you're talking about he jobs that a graduate of a chemistry or biology program can get without getting a Ph.D. or an M.D. aren't necessarily the best jobs out there," says Salzman. Likewise, he adds that even looking at "engineering" isn't useful — a petroleum engineer is going to have far different opportunities than a civil engineer....
Yes!

Also, this interesting quote from Matt Sigelman, the CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, the company behind the data that I posted about yesterday (emphasis mine):
"Biologists and computers scientists are pretty far from one another, and it's not clear that grouping them together as STEM jobs is useful in itself," says Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass, a job market analytics firm that helped produce a recent Brookings report on STEM job vacancies. But the classification does have another use, he says: "STEM is a useful categorization when you start thinking about it as a range of skills to have in the job market." 
[snip] 
"If you're an anthropology major and you want to get a marketing job, well, guess what? The toughest marketing jobs to fill require SQL skills," Sigelman says. "If you can ... along the peripheries of your academic program accrue some strong quantitative skills, you'll still have the advantage [in the job market]." Likewise, some legal occupations (such as intellectual property law) and maintenance and repair jobs stay open for long periods of time, according to the Brookings report, if they require particular STEM skills. 
I mostly agree with Sigelman that quantitative skills are useful, but it seems to me (especially with the comment in the article about 'analysts') that the business world wants folks who have a general understanding of statistics and some coding experience. While I suppose that I could broadly refer to these as "STEM skills", I think that's not particularly helpful. Also, this helps explain why I believe that STEM is really TE ("T", in Mr. Sigelman's case.) 

7 comments:

  1. Nonsense- STEM is a very useful categorization when you're a lazy politician and you want to lie with numbers.

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  2. Or a CEO with an interest in suppression of wage.

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    1. It's easier to carp about a stem shortage than try to outsource all the jobs. And it looks better on tv.

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  3. STEM, it's what them dead baby cells are made of.

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  4. I have actually forwarded a link to the CJ blog to a few reporters who need to correct their views on "STEM" shortages. Who knows if they are actually reading it. But in case they are, then some factual comments (as opposed to fanciful ones) would be helpful. Talking to you, "Anonymous".

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    1. Good luck on that. Reporters only care about narrative. "Scientist shortage!!" is a good story. What isn't is "Certain technical professions and niches are in demand; most others not so much." The latter contains nuance and (dare I say it?) truth while the former sells advertising.

      It's a failing of our dumb human brains that we prefer coherent stories instead of the messy complications of the real world. (Sadly, instead of attempting to fight this tendency, the trend now is to embrace it.)

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  5. Special Guest LecturerJuly 14, 2014 at 12:54 AM

    Categorizing STEM makes a lot of sense when discussing the undergraduate curriculum, because young college students aren't yet specialized and are often making critical decisions about taking STEM courses or pursuing STEM majors. Also, teaching across certain STEM subjects shares certain synergies and common lessons.

    I agree - STEM makes no sense as a means to lump all technical workers together.

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