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The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage 392

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-so-fast dept.
walterbyrd (182728) writes in with this story that calls into question the conventional wisdom that there is a shortage of science and engineering workforce in the U.S. "Such claims are now well established as conventional wisdom. There is almost no debate in the mainstream. They echo from corporate CEO to corporate CEO, from lobbyist to lobbyist, from editorial writer to editorial writer. But what if what everyone knows is wrong? What if this conventional wisdom is just the same claims ricocheting in an echo chamber? The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce."
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The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage

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  • Links (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thanshin (1188877) on Friday March 21, 2014 @05:39AM (#46541555)

    Why link to an article about some studies that "prove" common knowledge is false, instead of linking directly to the studies themselves?

    Is it journalistic courtesy?

    • by Bruinwar (1034968)
      It is a nicely written article, long read though. It puts into words, with links, what I've been saying for years.
    • Re:Links (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blueg3 (192743) on Friday March 21, 2014 @08:42AM (#46542221)

      Normally I'd agree, but the article summarizes a collection of studies, so is a work by itself. To skip the article, you'd either need to just link a number of studies and skip any useful summary of them, or you'd need to reproduce the summary in the article (which would be plagiarism, or at least wasted effort).

      • Re:Links (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Ronin Developer (67677) on Friday March 21, 2014 @09:15AM (#46542417)

        Correct. While some may not appreciate this, it's the compilation and interpretation of the links that provides value.

        I learned this, first hand, when I had opportunities to read published "classified" documents as part of my military duties. My first thought was, like, "No Shit Shirlock...this is common knowledge." The information sources that were cited in the paper were all public domain or common, open sources, and readily available and even were the subject of discussions I had made with my peers. However, it was the analysis of the information, the common threads, and the meaning the analyst derived from that information that made it a classified document.

        The point I took away from this article is not that there is not a shortage of capable works. Instead, it's a shortage of capable workers willing to work at the salaries and rates being offered. The VISA opportunities, as stated in the article, have enabled positions to be filled with qualified individuals at a substantially lower cost. In many cases, the job positions are created with the specific goal of filling with someone offshore. While this works out well for corporations, Sadly, this puts American workers at a serious disadvantage since they still have to live in this environment.

        I have no qualms with hiring someone from overseas who has a passion for the work and willing to work for a little less. I do have issues hiring someone just because they can do it cheaper. My experience is the latter costs more in the end while the former can be a great bargain. Nonetheless, I still would prefer to see those jobs go to Americans first, those with passion second, and finally qualified but lower-cost last.

        • Re:Links (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mrchaotica (681592) * on Friday March 21, 2014 @09:29AM (#46542513)

          Instead, it's a shortage of capable workers willing to work at the salaries and rates being offered.

          On the contrary; it's a shortage of companies willing to provide on-the-job training and the salaries and rates necessary!

        • by ranton (36917)

          The point I took away from this article is not that there is not a shortage of capable works. Instead, it's a shortage of capable workers willing to work at the salaries and rates being offered.

          The full answer is that there is a shortage of capable workers willing to work at the salaries and rates necessary to keep the jobs in this country. The US had a huge head start in the IT field because most of this technology was invented here, but the benefit of that is slowly dwindling. It is similar to the manufacturing benefits we had when automation pioneers like Ford invented their processes in the US. But we are in a global marketplace so eventually all fields need to justify their compensation on a

  • by invictusvoyd (3546069) on Friday March 21, 2014 @05:39AM (#46541557)
    yup there is a shortage.

    Wanna install windows 8 on 100 machines ?
    Nope .. no shortage ..
    • by DrPBacon (3044515)
      I don't feel like there should be a shortage of embedded systems programmers, but part of me feels like there could be.
      • by Goalie_Ca (584234)
        Certainly a shortage of jobs there. Or perhaps, well paying jobs. It's a lot easier finding a java/web/cloud gig.
    • by Sique (173459) on Friday March 21, 2014 @05:46AM (#46541581) Homepage
      How many kernels do you need to be written? How many Windows-8-machines do you need installed? "Shortage" does not mean "there are only a few of them", shortage means "there are not enough of them". This is quite different. We only have a single Mt. McKinley, but to go around and tell everybody that there is a shortage of Mt. McKinleys is just crazy.
      • What i'm trying to say is , what what a "scientist" or an "engineer" is, is a matter of perspective . I've seen a school dropout create fantastic software in plain perl . What is he?
        • by Sique (173459) on Friday March 21, 2014 @06:01AM (#46541639) Homepage
          A programmer.
        • by MrBingoBoingo (3481277) on Friday March 21, 2014 @06:09AM (#46541671) Homepage
          A large problem in trying to deal with "scientists" and "engineers" as a macro problem is people in those professions aren't very fungible. To be a scientist or and engineer is to have a substantial degree of professional specialization. A micro biologist is not fungible with a zoologist, and even most microbiologists are not fungible with other microbiologist or zoologists fungible with other zoologists.
          • by gtall (79522) on Friday March 21, 2014 @06:48AM (#46541801)

            That effect is because it takes so long to get to the front of any field, which I suspect you know. However, each field seems to do its damnist to exclude members of other fields or prevent one subfield from influencing another. Academia promotes this sort of fraternal organization and pisses on any cross-disciplinary researchers. In most companies, however, one is almost required to be cross-disciplinary at PhD level. I do not mean to imply that academic should be training PhDs for industry, but they cannot all get tenured at some university. So in the looking out for the well-fare of their graduates, they should be promoting cross-disciplinary research.

    • by hax4bux (209237)

      No there isn't. If you really wanted a fresh kernel you would have plenty of people to choose from. Same for hard core numerics. Lots of smart people want to do that work, but sadly there isn't much of it to go around. Many people work quite cheap for those jobs (at least for awhile).

      I did VMS internals back in the day. Hard core, big fun. When VAX work dried up, life was quite uncomfortable. I don't work on internals any longer because I won't hitch my career to a specific hardware platform again.

      Pu

      • by CastrTroy (595695)

        Lots of smart people want to do that work

        There's a huge difference between "lots of people want to do that work", and "lots of people are qualified to do that work" I'm sure if you put out a job posting, you'd get hundreds of resumes. But 99% of them would be completely unqualified to do the job. The few resumes you got from people who were qualified would be from people who were already employed, and they would probably just be looking to move up in payscale, rather than getting away from a bad job. T

    • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Friday March 21, 2014 @08:37AM (#46542205)

      There's certainly no shortage of lobbyists in Washington crying to Congress that they need more indentured servitude licenses (aka H-1B visas).

  • by MacTO (1161105) on Friday March 21, 2014 @05:50AM (#46541593)

    There is a lot more to this article than the mythical labor shortage. There is a discussion of the complexity of the issue. That includes things like labor market cycles, shortages in some specializations with surpluses in many, the cost of misinformation to graduates, and a fair bit more.

    To the summary skimmers, this article is probably worth your time.

  • by CaptainOfSpray (1229754) on Friday March 21, 2014 @05:56AM (#46541619)
    An analysis of salaries and salary trends for STEM employees will tell you exactly whether there is a shortage or not.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 21, 2014 @06:16AM (#46541689)

      Exactly. When there are shortages in a free market, you can see the shortage from the rising price. It's an objective, quantifiable measurement of the shortage.

      Do STEM salaries indicate a shortage ? That is, are they increasing at a rate beyond other areas ? I don't see it.

    • Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The authors agree:

      "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."

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      Yet, whenever someone talks about raising H-1B limits, there's the inevitable concern about how the flood of cheap labor will drive down salaries. The other perspective is that STEM salaries are already overinflated, and bringing in foreigners will keep labor costs at reasonable rates.

      Steady salaries just indicate that any disparity between labor supply and demand is also remaining steady.

  • Is it me, or does "a shortage of workforce" make no sense at all?

  • by benjfowler (239527) on Friday March 21, 2014 @06:15AM (#46541687)

    There isn't a shortage of STEM graduates.

    There's a shortage of _cheap_ STEM graduates for businesses too cheap to pay properly.

    • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Friday March 21, 2014 @06:35AM (#46541751)

      There's a shortage of _cheap_ STEM graduates for businesses too cheap to pay properly.

      I think you'll find that defining "properly" in this context runs into the same critique you made about "shortage".

    • Exactly this. Employers want to see the market flooded with STEM graduates so they can drive wages down. Schools are on the bandwagon to crank out STEM graduates because they get their money regardless of whether the graduates get a job or not, thanks to the student loan system. STEM is the next humanity major degree.

      This will work for a while when there are jobs available, but eventually this is just going to dump a lot of graduates out into the world with poor job prospects and mountains of debt. The empl
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I would phrase it slightly different: There is a shortage in willingness to pay.

    • I've got an idea... Let's pretend there's a shortage and get thousands of kids to study Eng and the fins the pay is minimal due to the influx. Oh... wait....
  • Time shift (Score:4, Funny)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Friday March 21, 2014 @06:29AM (#46541727)

    We had plenty of qualified workers back in, say, 1997 when the internet first boomed.
    The economy was strong as ever.

    Can't we just pretend it is 1997 again?

  • by bradley13 (1118935) on Friday March 21, 2014 @06:30AM (#46541735) Homepage

    I've taught off and on for 30 years now, and over the entire time one thing has remained pretty constant: About 10% of the students completing the programs are really good; they will be star programmers and eventually software architects. Another 40% are competent - they would be able to carry out plans created by others, but should never carry any larger responsibility. Good, solid programmers. The remaining 50% manage to graduate, but frankly should never work directly in the field. Maybe they can be testers or write documentation, but never let them write a line of code in a real project.

    Unfortunately, it's not always obvious what kind of person you are hiring. Add to this mix the people who are self-taught, who are coming from some other field, and may have wildly inappropriate ideas. Just as an example, I am currently working with a company whose star programmer (and he really is very good) comes from process control - and has zero clue about testing or quality control. He writes code and assumes that it works, and his company is so glad to have him (at a grunt-level salary) that they refuse to insult him by testing his code - so they deliver his work untested straight to clients - you can imagine how well this works.

    tl;dr: There is no shortage of bodies in STEM fields. However, there is a shortage of good people who also have a solid education in and understand of their field. This is true in computer science, and almost certainly in every other STEM field out there.

    • by rmdingler (1955220) on Friday March 21, 2014 @07:20AM (#46541893)
      Do the Colleges and Universities bear some of the responsibility for the quality of graduates they're churning out, or are these chickens coming home to roost from a well meant but misguided push to give every child a chance to get an advanced degree?
    • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Friday March 21, 2014 @07:23AM (#46541905)

      I've taught off and on for 30 years now, and over the entire time one thing has remained pretty constant: About 10% of the students completing the programs are really good; they will be star programmers and eventually software architects. Another 40% are competent - they would be able to carry out plans created by others, but should never carry any larger responsibility. Good, solid programmers. The remaining 50% manage to graduate, but frankly should never work directly in the field. Maybe they can be testers or write documentation, but never let them write a line of code in a real project.

      Unfortunately, it's not always obvious what kind of person you are hiring. Add to this mix the people who are self-taught, who are coming from some other field, and may have wildly inappropriate ideas. Just as an example, I am currently working with a company whose star programmer (and he really is very good) comes from process control - and has zero clue about testing or quality control. He writes code and assumes that it works, and his company is so glad to have him (at a grunt-level salary) that they refuse to insult him by testing his code - so they deliver his work untested straight to clients - you can imagine how well this works.

      tl;dr: There is no shortage of bodies in STEM fields. However, there is a shortage of good people who also have a solid education in and understand of their field. This is true in computer science, and almost certainly in every other STEM field out there.

      Sturgeon's Law all over again. Which itself was a somewhat embittered re-observation of what had already been seen in the Pareto Principle (ratios may vary somewhat).

      The saving grace of that is you don't need 100% of your staff to be rock stars. There's room for the stars, the supporting cast, and even a few janitors, and that actually makes a lot more economic sense, since those of us with star talents are neither being efficiently used when we have to do the grunt work nor likely to be very happy to so so.

      What it more telling is that companies these days typically don't attempt to take their existing assets and train them to become worth more, they want to hire in new people who can "hit the ground running" - trained at someone else's expense, and if the existing people cannot be found a place, they're summarily discarded. Along with their accumulated knowledge of how the business works and how to efficiently support the business.

      • by Xest (935314)

        I don't think training is the panacea you're implying. The problem is that there are people who are just untrainable, I really don't know if this is because some people are genetically dumb, whether it's a social thing whereby they're brought up with an unchangeable attitude against taking anything in, or whether it's simply because they don't have a genuine interest in the topic and so can't actually bring themselves to learn anything about it even when the opportunity is thrown at them.

        Given this, I can s

        • You forgot one category of "untrainables". Those who are simply too lazy to try. They are legion.

          But I'm not referring to untrainable people, I'm talking about the unwillingness of companies to train trainable assets, expecting to profit off someone else's labor and expense.

          It didn't used to be like that.

          If it's really true that the ratio of work needing top-notch talent to the supply is that out of balance, I have doubts that higher education stepping in will help. Since without anything else changing, run

    • by Viol8 (599362)

      "About 10% of the students completing the programs are really good; they will be star programmers and eventually software architects."

      Good programmer and good designer don't dovetail as neatly as you seem to think. Someone may be a first class at writing code and designing algorithms, but useless at the overall design of the project so there is no way they could be a software architect. Conversely , plenty of shit coders make good overall architects.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by DarkOx (621550)

        Unless you are doing hard CS and actually cooking up unique algorithms I have never observed what you are saying to be the case. Frankly as far as most software goes if its designed well it mostly codes itself.

        If the coupling and cohesion is correct, the components are mostly simple enough there are only so many ways you could code them. Modern IDEs solve most of the style and discipline problems of yesteryear.

        I have seen plenty of shit code, but its mostly shitty because its spaghetti, there is lots 'co

        • Code's itself? (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Sure, well-designed stuff is easy to code - if you are a solid programmer.

          It's amazing how many people carry the qualifications of a programmer, but can't actually code their way out of a paper bag. Abstraction, interfaces, any sort of advanced design pattern, and their eyes glaze over. By the time you break it down enough for them (write a method that takes a, b, and c - do d, e, f and return g), you'd have been faster writing the code yourself.

          Of course, you also get crappy design, but that's a whole 'not

    • by evilviper (135110)

      tl;dr: There is no shortage of bodies in STEM fields. However, there is a shortage of good people who also have a solid education in and understand of their field. This is true in computer science, and almost certainly in every other STEM field out there.

      If that was true, it would show in rising salaries for those jobs. Companies don't believe they can continue to attract a sufficient number of employees, by paying wages which have stagnated for a decade.

      I know there are horrible inefficiencies in the recr

  • For any skilled profession the resource availability usually dictates what the wage price would be for that resource. The exception being lawyers and healthcare because they've been given a licensed right to charge prices outside of market forces. When Businesses look at labor costs they always want the cheapest price because usually labor is the highest cost by percentage, meaning anything they can do to drive that cost down is thought to be best for the bottom line. That's why H1-B Visas exist, not be

  • Now come here and show us the stack of qualified, talented people for these open positions we have? Oh, wait, you're not actually trying to hire people? Maybe you mean there's no shortage of people writing crap on the Internet?

    My total compensation as a qualified Engineer is similar to the average compensation for a doctor. I think that's reasonable. It's very hard to fill positions right now.

  • Granted, the vast majority of CEOs and lobbyists are good at what they do, but their jobs do not involve finding an engineer. The lobbyists do not need engineers, and the CEOs have minions who can find engineers for them. I suspect that the typical CEO thinks that an engineer is a cross between Dilbert, middle management, and a random faceless guy with a pocket full of pens and bad personal hygeine plus the social skills of Sheldon Cooper - "if all those factors are not present, the person is not an enginee

  • Business as usual (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cantankerous Cur (3435207) on Friday March 21, 2014 @08:05AM (#46542057)

    This is a business as usual so far as I can see from what companies claim.

    There's no shortage.

    There's a shortage of highly competent, high producing, years of experience individuals willing to work for peanuts.

    Everyone else needs training, which companies are no longer willing to pay for. In some magical fashion, employees are just supposed to be hired and become immediately productive.

  • by Pollux (102520) <speter@tCHICAGOedata.net.eg minus city> on Friday March 21, 2014 @08:09AM (#46542071) Journal

    This is political wisecrackery with no legitimate basis to back it up. Congress has been informed for over seven years that this is an untruth. (Here's an article in Businessweek [businessweek.com]from all the way back in 2007 citing a study done by the Urban Institute [urban.org] debunking this myth.

    This information has been reported to Congress on both the floor and in committee hearings. (Sorry, at one point, I had an old printout of one report supporting this statement. I can't seem to locate it, either in paper form nor on Google.) Congressional leaders willingly refuse to accept this truth, simply because there is more to gain politically by not accepting it. (Huge amounts of money are circulated by lobbyists in support of political agendas influenced by this...opening up more H1B visas, for example.)

  • The issue can be experienced first hand by anyone in a big tech center trying to build a team or expand one.

    Finding people isn't too hard. Finding good people, at a price where there's SOME return on investment (that is, as much as you'd like to, you can't pay everyone 7 figure...but you can still pay them high enough to all toss them in the top 2%, and still be looking), is really hard.

    If you put your office in the middle of nowhere, you won't have enough people. If you put it in a tech center, you'll be c

  • That's the hard part: defining precisely what is meant by "shortage". If there are more candidates calling themselves engineers than there are jobs does that mean there's not a shortage? If so then there's probably not a shortage. If every company could immediately fill all its positions by offering exorbitant salaries does that mean there's not a shortage? If so then there's probably not a shortage. In my limited experience interviewing candidates, though, we seem to get a lot of people who aren't tha
  • This is just Corporate-speak for a shortage if dirt cheap slaves that will work 80 hours a week without any company stock or bonuses.
  • by bigpat (158134) on Friday March 21, 2014 @10:21AM (#46543015)
    If the supply and demand model applies to the job market then you can identify shortages by looking at the highest paid jobs first. Some of these professions are likely not very large, but even grouping some of these together then it appears we have a doctor shortage and lawyer shortage (Yes I hate saying that) and a shortage of middle managers. Based on these averages there is not meaningful shortage of Engineers, Scientists or IT because if there were a shortage then the average compensation would be higher. 1. Doctors $184,820 2. Chief Executives $176,840 3. Petroleum Engineers $147,470 4. Architectural and Engineering Managers $133,240 5. Lawyers $130,880 6. Natural Sciences Managers $130,400 7. Marketing Managers $129,870 8. Computer and Information Systems Managers $129,130 9. Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers $128,760 10. Financial Managers $123,260 11. Sales Managers $119,980 "Shortage" shouldn't be defined by CEOs who are going to Congress looking for more H1B visa indentured servants.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Friday March 21, 2014 @10:54AM (#46543299)

    As companies grow, it's more profitable to buy legislation then compete. The move to expand the H1-B visa program is a perfect example. The best employee is a slave. The closest we get to that in the USA is an H1-B serf. CEOs across the board will try and purchase legislation that reduces their labor costs by insuring a supply of imported serfs, since remote serfs often prove to be less useful.

    That's the reality. Anything coming out of the mouth of a CEO or a media company(s) where that CEO sits on the board, is simply self-serving noise.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday March 21, 2014 @11:36AM (#46543693)

    In 2003, you could get a masters degree quality indian programmer for a third of the price of an american bachelors degree.

    Then it was a "bachelor's degree 'A' student" about 2006.

    By 2010, the quality was lower but the price was cheaper.

    In 2011, we started seeing a new scam around the "L" visa. These indians were physically here but legally still in india. They could work 6 months in each calendar year then had to return home.

    Two years ago, inflation ran over 20% in india and over 30% in china (and over 50%-- up to 100% at non technical jobs) for these jobs and Infosys started changing it's business model.

    The typical offshore programmer in 2013- always said yes, delivered exactly to the specs- even if the specs were clearly insane/wrong/incomplete, was still willing to work 60 hour weeks but less so than in the past.

    And the turnover was insane. Entire teams of people would just be gone replaced by new people every six months. And you realized the outsourcing company was training people at our expense. And our american managers LOVED the concept that programmers are generic glorp to begin with so they bit really hard on the concept that process documentation would allow an offshore programmer to be instantly productive the second they walked in the door. You can imagine the actual results in reality. Regardless of the level of documentation (which wasn't as good as promised), it was a multi *million* line system. In reality, it took years to learn how things hooked together.

    The sneaky thing is the always saying "yes". An american manager asks an american programmer to do something and they know what is desired and say "can't do it on this set of constraints" while the indian programmer says "I'll do my best". "I'll do my best" is code for "can't do it on this set of constraints". But the managers bit on it every single time. And then had us working 70+ hour weeks to try and make up the difference/fix it.

    Glad I was able to retire having saving half what I made since 1990. Now when I program, it will be for fun like it used to be.

  • by sgt_doom (655561) on Friday March 21, 2014 @02:45PM (#46545627)
    Read The Billionaire's Apprentice, paying close attention to p. 139 where Gupta explains how at McKinsey they took the GDP of America (and Germany) and broke down all the jobs which could be offshored, then made their big bucks selling corporations on offshoring them (which didn't really take much selling, after all).

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