The Workforce Skills in Greatest Shortage Are Not Math and Science


As Virginia legislators ponder future investments in the Old Dominion’s talent pipeline (see my previous post), they might consider consulting data recently published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The organization defines skills as hard-to-find (or in shortage) when employers are unable to recruit staff with the required skills in a labor market at the going rate of pay and working conditions. Skill surpluses arise in the opposite case, when the supply exceeds of demand for a given skill.

In the United States, surplus skills tend to be associated with physical abilities (strength, coordination, speed, reaction time) — no surprise there. But, given focus on the shortage of IT workers in Virginia, one might surmise that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills are in shortest supply. According to OECD data, those skills are in modestly short supply, but the greatest skill deficits are education & training, social skills, verbal abilities, and management. (Those are national numbers, not Virginia-specific. Virginia labor markets may or may not reflect national trends.)

What does this tell us? It’s all well and good to strengthen Virginia’s K-12 and higher-ed math and science curriculum. But we can’t neglect reading, writing, communications, and collaboration. Who knows, a humanities education might come back in style one day.

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4 responses to “The Workforce Skills in Greatest Shortage Are Not Math and Science

  1. “But, given focus on the shortage of IT workers in Virginia, one might surmise that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills are in shortest supply. According to OECD data, those skills are in modestly short supply, but the greatest skill deficits are education & training, social skills, verbal abilities, and management.”

    I haven’t closely analyzed the overall STEM grad market in Virginia, but I have looked at it nationally. For the country overall, there does not appear to be a general undersupply of STEM grads. Grads in computer science and related fields (and those with related skills), however, appear to be in short supply in Virginia and across most of the U.S. For example, there recently were about six online job advertisements in the U.S. for every unemployed person in the computer and mathematical occupation. In contrast, there were three online advertised openings per unemployed healthcare worker. See https://www.conference-board.org/data/helpwantedonline.cfm.

    I wasn’t able to review the OECD analysis in detail, but it’s possible the modest imbalance they estimated for “engineering and technology” is in part because total employment in that sector of the economy is relatively small compared to some other occupational sectors, such as education and healthcare. Anecdotally, when I talk with traded-sector employers in Virginia (i.e., firms that mainly serve out-of-state customers, such as manufacturers, technology firms, and corporate HQs), their unmet talent needs for college grads overwhelmingly center on computer science and related fields, as well as engineering fields.

    Note also that the OECD recap above did not draw any distinction between higher- and lower-skill jobs, higher- and lower-paid jobs, or jobs in the traded sector vs. non-traded sectors. Those distinctions matter a great deal. Had they been included, the results would have been materially different.

    • If you want to learn how to improve STEM graduations in Virginia you don’t have to go far. Study the last 25 years at The University of Maryland in regard to STEM, especially computer science.

    • I found another study that offers some insight here: “Different Skills, Different Gaps: Measuring & Closing the Skills Gap” by Dan Restuccia at Burning Glass.

      https://www.burning-glass.com/research-project/skills-gap-different-skills-different-gaps/

      Excerpt: “Our research shows that roles requiring highly skilled workers – such as health care practitioners, business and financial operations, computer and mathematics professionals, and architecture and engineering roles – are the most undersupplied roles. In each case, there are at least 15% more openings than available workers in the market. For health care practitioners, the gap is even more severe, with 44% more openings than available workers.”

  2. This seems like SJW propaganda for people without math skills. The answers to these questions are the kind of crap you say when you don’t want to offend some libtwit with no real world experience asking stupid questions. “Oh yes! The ability to articulate an argument is much more important than a real understanding of statistics. And the last thing we need is another full stack developer. Blah. Blah. Blah.”

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