A slew of new studies indicate that the US may suffer from a surfeit of STEM graduates, flying in the face of repeated complaints from industry and academia about the country's shortage of engineers.
A raft of separate studies from some of the top academic and research bodies in the US has failed to find any compelling evidence of a shortage on the labour market of scientists or engineers whose bare minimum qualification is a bachelor’s degree.
Organizations responsible for the studies include the Congressional Research Service, National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation and the Urban Institute.
The studies are unanimous, however, in concluding that America’s higher education system currently produces a surfeit of STEM graduates relative to available science and engineering jobs, with estimates of the labor surplus ranging between 100 and 200 per cent.
The claims of the studies are in stark contrast to the prevailing wisdom that the US, like many other developed economies, is producing an insufficient number of engineers, which could lead to it ceding ts competitive edge to hungrier, up-and-coming rivals.
The studies further indicate that real wages in many engineering sub-sectors are either flat or seeing only modest growth, and that unemployment levels are equal to or higher than other occupational fields which require commensurate levels of education.
A report by John F. Sargent issued by the Congressional Research Service last year found that members of the science and engineering professions have suffered from higher rates of unemployment in recent years than other skilled occupations, including physicians, surgeons, dentists, lawyers and registered nurses.
A big part of the problem is the cyclical, boom-bust nature of demand for engineers, which is driven by the emergence of new technologies or abrupt paradigm shifts in the economy, such as the recent shale boom in North America.
The popularisation of technologies which are capable of extracting previously inaccessible fossil fuels has led to a sudden spike in demand for petroleum engineers, a profession whose appeal had dwindled sharply in the 1980s and 1990s.