Science and Technology; A Key Driver of US Economic Growth.
Science and Technology; A Key Driver of US Economic Growth
STEM Proficiency: A Key Driver of Innovation, Economic Growth and National Security
STEM skills are needed in the many millions of jobs in sectors such as energy, manufacturing, food production and health care.
STEM: what a terrible acronym. It’s one of those awkward labels that become accepted shorthand for a wonky policy topic because no one can figure out a better way to say it. But don’t let clunkiness obscure significance. STEM is also an under appreciated, and troubling, component of the U.S. economy. The real meaning behind “STEM” is the mismatch between supply and demand in a key part of the country’s labor pipeline. The demand for the many jobs requiring STEM skills—science, technology, engineering and math—is outstripping the supply, and the problem will only get worse.
That’s what we found when we crunched the numbers in the first-ever STEM Index, a basket of data measuring the state of STEM jobs and education since 2000. We wanted to impose some metrics on a much-discussed but ill-defined subject that has become a concern for most major industries in the U.S. STEM proficiency is a key driver of innovation, economic growth and ultimately national security. For instance, some of the most coveted and scarce skills today are in the fields of cybersecurity.
But STEM is not just about tech companies. It’s not just about people who wear lab coats. STEM skills are needed in the many millions of jobs that will have to be filled in sectors such as energy, manufacturing, food production and perhaps most significantly, health care. What industry does not need more workers with science and math know-how? And not just at the high end. Having STEM skills could mean making it into the middle class, or not.
Going back to studies like the seminal “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report of 2005, the problem has been a focus of much attention. But we wanted to add some new rigor by creating a unique set of data that looked at how the U.S. has fared in tackling this supply-demand challenge. We plotted dozens of statistics that measured student test performance, aptitude, and interest against job demand (read the full methodology). The result is a 14-year average that tells an important part of the STEM story, with limits. Our new benchmark, the U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index, is a starting point that’s meant to lead to deeper discussions, and ultimately solutions. And of course any broad-based graph can only tell you so much; the analyses behind the component parts are ultimately the most revealing.
What the numbers tell us is that the country has made little progress on a problem we’ve seen coming for a long time. Despite growing job demand, the pipeline of talent is weak and will remain that way for at least a decade if nothing changes. There are some recent glimmers of hope, reflected in an uptick over the past two years, but they are coming from a select part of the population. Our top-line data, supported by other studies, shows that some portion of white males, along with Americans of Asian descent, are increasingly drawn to STEM subjects, while those who represent the bulk of the future labor pool—women, Latinos and African-Americans—are showing disproportionately little interest.
The increased demand for STEM skills is evident despite a key shortcoming in the STEM Index: our need to rely on federal government data. Using the sometimes out-of-date definitions of what is a STEM job, the Index still charts a 30 percent growth, from 12.8 million in 2000 to 16.8 million in 2013. More granular estimates put actual jobs requiring STEM skills at as much as 50 percent of the job market. We’ll be refining that and other data for next year’s edition.
Among the biggest problems surfaced in the STEM Index:
- Between 2000 and 2013, an average of 37.6 percent of high school males reported having interest in at least one of the STEM disciplines, vs. 14.8 percent of females.
- In 2013, the average SAT math score for white students was 534, compared to 461 for Hispanic students and 429 for black students. The average ACT science scores were 22 for whites, 18.8 for Hispanic students and 16.9 for black students.
- As high school students’ interest in STEM has waned, their scores on international assessments like PISA have also dropped. In 2000, the average U.S. PISA math score was 493. In 2012, that score dropped to 481. Relative to other developed countries, we remain near the back of the pack.
STEM may be a simple label, but the problem it speaks for is deeply complex. Why do fourth-grade girls sour on math? Teacher prep programs ignore science training? University curriculums wash out too many talented students? The solutions require the interaction of industry, academia, government and non-profits.
There is work being done in all these areas, but the evidence suggests it is not enough. Better awareness and more-realistic assessments are important next steps. This new STEM Index is a start.
Brian Kelly is editor and chief content officer of U.S. News & World Report. William H. Swanson is chairman of Raytheon Company.
- STEM jobs
- STEM education
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