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Report: STEM Employment Prospects Are Positive

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals
The employment prospects for those majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are brightening, and should improve further in the near future. Associated Press

According to two new reports published by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, current and future prospects for STEM workers are solid.

July 2, 2013—Two new reports issued by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce have indicated that the current and future prospects for workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are strong and will continue to rise. Whereas in the past liberal arts degrees were seen as the most versatile college degree—teaching critical and analytical thinking and providing a strong foundation for any employment—that is no longer the case, according to the reports.

“A lot of STEM workers—the STEM students, the STEM workforce—are now challenging the definition of what a true liberal arts major ought to be,” says Nicole Smith, Ph.D., a research professor and senior economist with the center.

“We have in our research found that it seems that STEM is the new liberal arts…STEM is the new major that’s trainable,” she says. “STEM [students] are the people who have that flexibility to move around and still maintain their wage bias or their wage premium.”

The two reports—Hard Times 2013: College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings by Anthony P. Carnevale and Ban Cheah, released in May 2013, and Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020 by Anthony P. Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl, released in June 2013—provide a snapshot of the current experience of engineers and a forecast of what the future will hold.

Currently, the United States is leaving behind the Great Recession of 2007. The first Hard Times report, released last year, examined the effect that majors had on job prospects using numbers drawn from the middle of the recession, Smith explains. (See “Major Affects Job Prospects,” on Civil Engineering online.)

In that first Hard Times report showed that while unemployment rates for civil engineers who had recently graduated from college hovered at 8.1 percent, which was lower than the national unemployment rate, they were still slightly higher than recent engineering graduates in general, whose unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, and significantly better than architecture majors, whose unemployment rate was 13.9 percent. A depressed construction market, due to the recession, was part of the problem, according to the report.

This year’s Hard Times report is an update based on examining current conditions, which the authors view as a transition period in which the U.S. economy is recovering and leaving the recession behind. As a result, slight improvements have been seen in each category: recently graduated architects’ unemployment rates have dropped to 12.8 percent and engineers—in general—have dropped to 7.0 percent. Even more promising, the unemployment rate for recently graduated civil engineers has dropped to 7.6 percent.

Demand for engineers is so strong, Smith posits, because the analytic training they received in college provides a strong base for them to move into management positions or other fields. However, the numbers affirm that recovery from a recession is a gradual process. Civil engineers’ salaries remained relatively static between the two Hard Times reports, according to Smith. In the middle of the recession, as reported in the 2012 Hard Times report, recent civil engineering college graduates were reportedly earning an average of $50,000 annually, while experienced college graduates earned $81,000 and graduate degree holders earned $96,000. By 2013, those average numbers had shifted only slightly, to, respectively, $51,000, $81,000, and $95,000.

The future—as explored in the Recovery report released in June—looks even brighter for college-educated STEM students, however. The forecast predicts that there will be 55 million job openings in the economy through 2020; 31 million will be the result of retiring workers whose jobs open up, and 24 million will be newly created jobs in fields that are just now being discovered. The newly created jobs will be those just now being conceptualized, as technology races forward. A concrete example of this is social media manager, a job that did not exist prior to the advent of such sites as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+—and the Internet technology that makes them worldwide phenomena.

Specifically for engineers, the Recovery report predicts that by 2020 the availability of jobs will surpass the previous prerecession high of 2006. Demand for engineering jobs, according to the report, stood at 1,820,000 in 2006, dipped to a low point of 1,680,000 in 2010, and is expected to reach 1,940,000 by 2020.

Most employers will seek such cognitive skills as communication and analytics from job applicants, Smith says, and the availability of jobs in STEM fields will be among the fasting-growing during the next seven years. Which is a great sign for students trained as engineers—although it means that the competition to hire the best and the brightest recent graduates will continue to grow.



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