Monday, July 28, 2014

Is STEM Worker Shortage Based on a Lie and a Scam

The debate over STEM education and an "alleged STEM-worker shortage" received another critical voice this week as Ron Hira and friends took to the pages of USA Today to challenge and expose "Bill Gates' Tech Worker Fantasy." Gates and his monolithic Gates Foundation have been the driving forces behind the obsessive focus on increasing math and science oriented students to fuel the tech sector's supposed need for workers. Proponents of STEM-education argue that the new technology-driven era will create an ever-growing demand for computer scientists and engineers to fuel the the economy ... and to fill the bankrolls of tech companies like Microsoft. However, critics like Hira challenge these absolutes and point to evidence of a "STEM-shortage myth" in light of the fact that many college-educated STEM grads are currently out of work or working in non-STEM fields. This revelation is bolstered by news of Microsoft's recent announcement of plans to lay off 18,000 workers. Stagnant wage growth in STEM fields and collusion by tech companies to suppress wages in the field also expose the problems of STEM-only focus in education.

Criticism of the need for STEM workers has been building for years, as many researchers indicate the economy may have twice as many STEM workers as it needs, leading to wage decline and unemployment. The STEM push had been used by tech companies to increase the ease and availability for hiring foreign workers. But again, much of the propaganda for increasing STEM numbers appears to be based on myth and misinformation. Of course, there is validity to the need for STEM workers. And the argument that a shortage of technologically skilled workers is real and growing has plenty of support. No one would dispute that the world and the economy are becoming increasingly tech-linked. So it stands to reason that workers with backgrounds in the kind of math, science, technology, and engineering used to support that economy should be in regular demand. And STEM proponents argue that critics don't fully understand the numbers.

The problem, of course, is that no one seems to have a definitive answer that is not in some way driven by an agenda. Even the "experts" don't know if the shortage is real. But from "A Teacher's View," the impact on education is serious and significant, and it's worrisome that the push for students to learn is simply based on the premise of getting a good paying engineering job. For, what of the social-emotional side to society and the economy? What of the artists and creators and poets and writers and thinkers? What of the dancers?

Certainly, STEM is a need and a reasonable focus for education. But it can't be the only one.


Norm Matloff said...

Hi, Teacher, Norm Matloff here, one of the authors of the USA Today op ed you cite.

You should really investigate on your own whether the "STEM labor shortage" claims are valid. It's not hard to do at all, provided you dig deep into the issue and keep a sharp eye out for hidden (sometimes not so hidden) agendas.

I suggest starting with some points that all sides of the argument agree on. That will give you excellent perspective for going further.

1. First, all sides agree that salaries have been flat in the computer field, the one the industry says has the most acute shortage. You then, either by consulting economist friends or simply using common sense, will see that there is just no way to reconcile the shortage claims with the flat wages.

2. Second, ANY economist, and again plain common sense, will tell you that immobile workers tend to make less than mobile workers of the same quality. Since the H-1B work visa holders are immobile (need an asterisk here), it then follows that all sides agree that the H-1Bs are paid less than their market worth. You will then have a hard time taking the industry's "shortage" claims seriously.

By these two simple "thought" experiments, you'll already be way ahead of the game. You can then delve into details (such as the asterisk above, too complex for me to deal with here).

You may wish to admonish your students to always consider the source. You yourself should have questioned what Linda Rosen's credentials are for writing the column you cite, and even more importantly, looked into who is funding her.

My 10-minute overview of the H-1B issue is at

mmazenko said...

Thanks, Norm.

I appreciate the feedback, and I am certainly in agreement with your op-ed. In fact, my original blog title was stated as fact, but in the interest of fairness, I re-phrased it as a question and sought a few counter-arguments as links. That said, I think my position is pretty clear that I support the claims and argument you and your colleagues have made - and, as a result, I think your tone and advice on how to research and evaluate a source is a bit ... much, to say the least. You could probably lighten up a bit there, Norm.

I'll stand by my post, and I hope I've done my part to promote awareness of the "STEM-shortage myth" by linking to your op-ed.

You're welcome.