Is the STEM skills gap closing?

For the last few years, employers in the US and the UK have reported a significant gap in the skills of graduates entering the job market. But as a new report finds that STEM majors are earning the highest starting salaries in the US, does this mean the skills gap is finally closing?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that more than half of the US employers that they surveyed were planning to hire graduates with bachelor’s degrees in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields. This makes them the most sought-after candidates going into the job market.

Engineers are expected to fare the best, making an average of $64,891 straight out of school in 2016 – a three per cent increase over their project earnings in 2015. Computer science majors come in at a close second with an average salary of $61,321. Maths and science majors trail slight but will still earn a healthy average starting salary of $55,087.

Education and humanities majors are set to have a tougher start in the job market, with expected starting salaries as low as $34,891 and $46,065, respectively.

However, research from the University of Warwick last year suggested that US employers were offering wages that were too low to skilled graduates and that this was why there was a skills gap.

“It is often taken for granted that the skills gap and skills mismatch is a supply problem and appropriate training is not available to workers. However US data shows that market wages do not reflect the relative demand for different types of skills,” Dr Thijs van Rens, associate professor in the department of economics at the University of Warwick, said. “Businesses complain about the lack of workers with STEM skills but are unwilling to raise wages for these workers – or reduce wages for workers with skills that are less in demand.”

What this suggests is that while graduates with STEM skills exist, they might be going for jobs where traditionally wages are higher, such as in the finance industry – leaving STEM industries without the necessary workers but enabling skilled graduates to earn top salaries.

Many different schemes and programmes exist to encourage young people into STEM subjects, but while the US and the UK both still report a significant skills gap it’s hard to say what their success has been. The starting salaries data for STEM major graduates looks promising on the surface, but while businesses still report a lack of skilled workers, there is clearly more work to be done.

Take a look at how Virgin Galactic are working to inspire students into STEM subjects...


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