The skills mismatch

“While jobs requiring STEM knowledge and skills are growing at nearly twice the rate of other occupations in the United States, just 13 percent of college students choose a STEM major, according to Investigating the Skills Mismatch on the Top of the Class blog. More than 40 percent of Chinese college graduates and nearly 50 percent in Singapore have STEM degrees, according to an Accenture report. Brazil will pass the U.S. in new engineering PhDs by 2016.

Source: Accenture. (2011).

Only 10 percent of Chinese engineers and 25 percent of Indian engineers are educated to a global standard, compared to 80 percent of U.S. engineers, a 2005 McKinsey report found. However, there are a lot of people in China and India. “Accenture calculates that even if just 20 percent of Chinese STEM graduates are qualified to a world standard, this would represent more than 700,000 graduates by 2015, as compared to just 460,000 in the United States.”

About Joanne


  1. The majority of Americans hate Math and have no interest in Science. Which is why we’re going from the leader of the world to a 3rd world country in just 2-3 generations. Have you purchased the Rosetta Stone software for learning Chinese yet?

  2. Ummm, could this be due to the fact that STEM degree by definition are (on average) much harder than most liberal arts degrees.

    The fact that many high school students (and/or graduates) lack the requisite math, english, and science skills needed to complete a STEM degree is a huge deterrence.

    I remember reading an article where a nursing school student hadn’t managed to pass a required math course for nurses (even after 5 tries). IMO, she should have been told:

    I’m sorry, but based on your history of being UNABLE to pass the required math course, we’ll have to drop you from the program, and suggest that you find a different career field to pursue…


    • In 1967, my freshman roommate flunked chem and had a D in anatomy&physiology; she was automatically dropped from the nursing program, which required Cs in all required courses. Since her other grades weren’t high enough to keep her GPA above 1.7, she was flunked out of the university. If she wanted to return, she would have had to re-apply (and likely be rejected). She chose an easier school and ended up with an associate’s degree. That entering nursing class of 65 ended up graduating less than 30 of the starters. I have family members in math and engineering and those disciplines expected to weed out 2/3 of the entering students.

      • Surviving the ‘weed out’ process used to be a badge of honor for the students who were survivors of it, and everyone knew why the ‘boot camp’ was necessary for the freshmen and sophomores. These days, a professor can get sued for doing that very thing! (“Why can’t this innumerate student become an eingeer at NASA? It’s his dream!”)

  3. Bill, that reminds me of a classmate of mine who desperately wanted to get a PhD so she could “do research in schizophrenia.” She couldn’t pass genetics, after taking it three times. She was dropped from the biology major. Nobody said anything about how unrealistic it was to decide at the outset what she was going to do with a PhD when she wasn’t even good enough for a BS.

    In graduate school (chemistry), about two thirds of my classmates were from PRC and Korea. This was in 1990.

    • In other words, she had no idea what she was trying to do, no idea how to get there, and had never considered doing any prepartory work before trying (whether or not the K-12 school had prepared her, had she no initiative?) Some people just aren’t built genetically to be successful in this world (no pun intended).

      • Yes, and it was all the more painful that she was a returning student and should have had some common sense about how the world works by then. She was in her 40’s which means she would probably have been rejected by graduate schools anyway. It was all very touchy feely that she had a relative with the disease and wanted to “help” them by doing research. Very unrealistic. She would have helped them better by being there for them.

        Returning students tend to be outperformers but she was the exception.

  4. Students are responding rationally to incentives.  Employers are using immigrants on H1B visas to hold wages down and push STEM workers out long before retirement, leading to what Dr. Norm Matloff calls the “internal brain drain” into programs like law and business:

    3. The presence of the foreign workers is causing an internal brain drain in the U.S., by making careers in science and engineering financially unattractive.

    4. Our National Science Foundation, whose job it is to fund university research, explicitly called for bring in a lot of foreign scientists and engineers in order to hold down PhD salaries. Why would they do this? Simple–the NSF, being in the research business, wants to get the most bang for its buck, and thus benefits from low PhD salaries (and low PhD student stipends, again kept low by the swelling of the labor market). Most importantly, the NSF forecast, correctly, that the resulting stagnant salaries would discourage Americans from pursuing PhDs.

  5. Dr. Matloff has long been hated by the H-1B hacks…but he speaks the truth, if there were a job for every person who was skilled at high tech in the US (lawful residents and citizens), there would be droves going to work in the field…

    I somehow see less need for high tech in the future, as systems become more reliable, and outsourcing becomes more commonplace (I might be wrong, of course).


  6. “…While jobs requiring STEM knowledge and skills are growing at nearly twice the rate of other occupations in the United States, just 13 percent of college students choose a STEM major….”

    The issue of growth, of itself, is not indicative of a shortage. STEM jobs account for about 6% of the labor market, so the fact that 13% of college graduates have STEM majors suggests we’re not on track toward having a shortage.

  7. “we’re not on track toward having a shortage” …

    Not immediately perhaps, but if we extrapolate that curve far enough 🙂

    Of course, in the long run, we’re all dead.

    • Ah yes, if we project far enough we’ll reach that fine day in the future when we’re all in STEM jobs, except for some of the voices who presently argue most vociferously that other people should be pursuing STEM degrees – alas, they’ll be unemployed.