Many advanced industry employers report difficulties finding qualified workers, which places a drag on advanced industry competitiveness. A key factor in these difficulties appears to be the sector’s heavy reliance on relatively scarce STEM skills. 60% of all job postings in advanced industries are for STEM workers, compared with 34% outside of advanced industries.
Many advanced industry companies are having difficulty finding workers with the needed STEM skills, a problem that undercuts US competitiveness as a location for advanced industry production. At the problem’s core lies the fact that the our education system does not graduate enough college students in STEM fields, nor does it adequately prepare children to attain fluency in mathematical and scientific concepts. US youths and adults alike perform much more poorly on OECD exams of math and science competencies than many of their peers in developed countries. Even students in the top 10% of U.S. performers score well below their highest-scoring peers in other developed countries.
This poor academic performance in middle school and adulthood corresponds with low STEM graduation rates at the postsecondary level. Measured in 2 ways—annual STEM graduates per capita and the share of total graduates completing degrees in STEM fields—the United States lags far behind other developed countries. In terms of annual STEM graduates per person aged 20 to 34, the United States ranks 23rd among developed nations. Finland, Korea, the Slovak Republic, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, Portugal, and Poland—graduate STEM students at a rate at least 50% higher than the US. Similarly, our country ranks a distant 32nd in terms of the percentage of its graduates majoring in STEM fields, with just 13% of graduates choosing majors in science, computer science, or engineering. In Korea and Germany, 27% of college graduates choose these fields, and in countries as diverse as Greece, Mexico, and France, at least 20% of all graduates leave university with a STEM degree. Increasingly, the United States lacks the skills base to sustain advanced industry competitiveness.