22 SES 11 D, Student Transitions and Graduate Employability
There is considerable political and industry pressure to increase the number of scientists in the UK and other nations. ‘Crisis’ accounts of falling levels of engagement in STEM subjects at local and international levels have been well documented and have persisted over time. In the UK according to the Confederation of British Industry’s recent Skills and Education Survey, there is a widespread shortage of STEM skills, with 43% of employers reporting difficulty in recruiting appropriately skilled applicants and more than half expecting to experience recruitment problems within the next three years (CBI 2012). Similar surveys by the Sector Skills Council and other organisations also point to skills shortages among graduates across STEM areas (DIU 2009). This focus on the need to increase the supply of young people into the field is apparent in the number of initiatives and policies that seek to raise participation in STEM areas. The motivations behind such initiatives are largely economic and represent industry’s concerns for a suitably skilled workforce (e.g. CBI 2012), particularly in the face of competition from other established and emerging economies, such as India and China (Leitch Review of Skills 2006).
However, others argue that the supply of STEM skills is more than enough to meet demand and that the picture is much healthier than is often suggested. Indeed, rather than there being a shortage of STEM professionals, it has been argued that many highly qualified STEM graduates struggle to find appropriate employment and either work in non-STEM fields, are ‘underemployed’ in STEM occupations, or are unemployed. Indeed, as far back as the 1960s, widespread political concerns about a ‘swing from science’ and a ‘brain drain’ of highly qualified professionals were being questioned by economists who saw the issue as a ‘mass of contradictions’ compounded by a lack of understanding about what labour market demandactually meant (Gannicott and Blaug 1969:57). More recent work undertaken on behalf of the UK Commission of Employment and Skills (2011:4) has also concluded that skills shortage vacancies in STEM sectors are generally low and that that the supply of STEM skills is ‘more than sufficient to meet demand’. Such contradictions are not limited to the UK. Writing from a US perspective, Teitelbaum (2003:47) argues that STEM shortage claims are ‘inconsistent with all available quantitative evidence ... [and] many of the solutions proposed to deal with the putative "crisis" are profoundly misdirected’.
This paper aims to contribute to the ‘STEM skills deficit’ debate by providing much needed evidence (House of Lords 2012) on the nature of STEM career trajectories and their relationship to higher education and the wider labour market. It will address the following main research questions:
1. What are the patterns in the early and subsequent career trajectories for STEM graduates?
2. How do STEM patterns of employment compare with employment patterns in non-STEM fields?
3. Does studying particular subjects or having graduated from particular institutions affect STEM career success?
CBI (2011), Building for growth: business priorities for education and skills, Education and skills survey 2011, accessed from www.cbi.org.uk/media/1051530/cbi__edi_education___skills_survey_2011.pdf DIU (2009) The Demand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Skills. Available at: www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/corporate/migratedd/publications/d/ demand_for_stem_kills.pdf (accessed March 2010). House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology (2012), Higher Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects Report, House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, London: The Stationery Office Limited. Leitch Review of Skills (2006) Prosperity for All in the Global Economy – World Class Skills: Final Report (London, HMSO). Teitelbaum, M.S. (2003) Do we need more scientists? The Public Interest, Fall, 40–53. UKCES (2011), The supply of and demand for high- level STEM skills, UK Commission for Employment and Skills: Briefing paper, December 2011, accessed from www.ukces.org.uk/assets/ukces/docs/publications/briefing-paper-the-supply-of-and-demand-for-high-level-stem-skills.pdf
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