Lecture Notes by Christopher Lay

Los Angeles Pierce College

Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences


Michael S. Teitelbaum's "The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage"







"The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage"






"American students need to improve in math and science—but not because there's a surplus of jobs in those fields."





They Say

It seems that all we here is that there is a shortage of STEM qualified workers, and that America's standing will suffer as a result. 





But …

what if those ideas are wrong?  "What if this conventional wisdom is just the same claims ricocheting in an echo chamber?"





Truth Claim

"The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce."





Absent Evidence

"No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree."






Relevant studies "have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more."






"Most studies report that real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations."





Unemployment Rates

"[U]nemployment among scientists and engineers is higher than in other professions such as physicians, dentists, lawyers, and registered nurses, and surprisingly high unemployment rates prevail for recent graduates even in fields with alleged serious 'shortages' such as engineering (7.0 percent), computer science (7.8 percent) and information systems (11.7 percent)."





Cold Reality [?]

"Far from offering expanding attractive career opportunities, it seems that many, but not all, science and engineering careers are headed in the opposite direction: unstable careers, slow-growing wages, and high risk of jobs moving offshore or being filled by temporary workers from abroad."


"Recent science Ph.D.s often need to undertake three or more additional years in low-paid and temporary 'postdoctoral' positions, but even then only a minority have realistic prospects of landing a coveted tenure-track academic position."








"Claims of workforce shortages in science and engineering are hardly new. Indeed there have been no fewer than five 'rounds' of 'alarm/boom/bust' cycles since World War II."


"Each lasted about 10 to 15 years, and was initiated by alarms of 'shortages,' followed by policies to increase the supply of scientists and engineers."


"Unfortunately most were followed by painful busts—mass layoffs, hiring freezes, and funding cuts that inflicted severe damage to careers of both mature professionals and the booming numbers of emerging graduates, while also discouraging new entrants to these fields."





On K-12 Education

"Every high school graduate should be competent in science and mathematics—essential to success in almost any 21st century occupation and to informed citizenship as well."


"But there is a big disconnect between this broad educational imperative and the numerically limited scope of the science and engineering workforce."






"The repeated past cycles of 'alarm/boom/bust' have misallocated public and private resources by periodically expanding higher education in science and engineering beyond levels for which there were attractive career opportunities."


"In so doing they produced large unintended costs for those talented students who devoted many years of advanced education to prepare for careers that turned out to be unattractive by the time they graduated, or who later experienced massive layoffs in mid-career with few prospects to be rehired."





Oops …

"Recent forecasts of looming shortages of scientists and engineers may prove to be self-fulfilling prophecies if they result in further declines in the attractiveness of science and engineering careers for talented American students."