Friday, April 26, 2013

The myth of “unfilled STEM jobs”

Yesterday I posted about a study arguing that the shortage of qualified job applicants in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is a myth. I can’t vouch for that study’s analysis, but isn’t the whole concept of “unfilled positions” inherently suspect?

Just as every house sells if you price it low enough, every job opening gets filled if the salary is high enough. To say that there are “unfilled openings” is to say that employers would happily hire more people if only the prevailing market wage were lower. But that is not peculiar to STEM; it is generally true in any industry.

To say that there are “not enough qualified applicants” is no different. I promise: if you offer enough money, you’ll find a qualified applicant. Yes, the total number of qualified applicants is limited by how attractive a given career path is relative to others. If the salaries are only so attractive, only so many people will go into that field. To complain about it is to complain that market forces are limiting your profits. Poor you!

If accountants were willing to work for minimum wage, it’s a safe bet that accounting firms would increase their hiring. Think of all those “unfilled positions”! That is not an argument for government intervention to increase the supply of accountants.

I’m counting on someone with a more sophisticated understanding of economics than mine to let me know where I’m going wrong here—though at least this guy seems to agree with me.

1 comment:

IMTONYM said...

I just discovered this post, but it intrigued me, so I'm responding today.

You're absolutely right, but you also ignore the larger message. Government and industry experts highlight the unfilled jobs primarily because conventional wisdom dictates that STEM leadership, such as leadership in technology sectors, requires robust growth in STEM graduates and available talent. If salaries need to be raised to spur career choices and job transfers, there will be periods of decline in US STEM leadership in new and evolving technologies. The length of such periods, and the impact of them, will be difficult to predict but should not be completely discounted.

I suppose I'm saying that the concern for "unfilled jobs" is real in a broader sense although the most obvious solution is the wage increase that you suggested. Thanks for making me think.