Still Searching: Job Vacancies and STEM Skills

This report uses a unique database from the labor market information company Burning Glass and other sources to analyze the skill requirements and the advertisement duration time for millions of job openings.

Jonathan Rothwell
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

Workers with skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) play a hugely important role in driving innovation and economic growth. This report addresses a set of issues of increasing interest to policy makers, educators, businesses, and workers of all ages: What skills are most in demand and most likely to lead to a rewarding career? Is there a shortage of workers possessing the skills used in STEM occupations (i.e., STEM skills)? What skills and bodies of knowledge should schools and post-secondary institutions offer to teach students in order to provide them the best chances of economic success?

The results show that skills common to STEM occupations are in short supply relative to demand and are valued more by employers. Moreover, companies located in regions with low unemployment rates for STEM workers have greater difficulty filling their openings, all else being equal. It follows that increased training in STEM fields like computer science and medicine will ease hiring for employers and lead to high-paying career paths for workers. While this is certainly not the first report to highlight the economic advantages that accrue to those with STEM skills, the data and analysis here are novel and useful in a few ways. First, unlike most reports on the STEM workforce or skill-shortage issues more broadly, this report draws on a database (developed by the labor market information company Burning Glass) that allows one to measure the duration of job vacancy advertisements—a measure of hiring difficulty.

This is the first nationwide analysis of vacancy duration for the United States by occupation. This report also draws upon a uniquely large sample size: 1.1 million advertisements were used to calculate summary statistics for the first quarter of 2013, and 3.3 million were used in the formal statistical analysis, across 52,000 companies.

There are three major conclusions:

  1. Job openings for STEM positions take longer to fill than openings in other fields. 
  2. Specific high-value skills requested by employers and common to STEM occupations are particularly scarce relative to demand and yet particularly valuable to employers.
  3. The regional supply of workers in a given occupation affects the length of vacancy advertisements. 
What the experts say

Until this research, there were, evidently, no comprehensive, reliable, and objective studies that reported on supply and demand in our US economy. According to its author, "this is by far the largest database of vacancy duration to be analyzed, and this is the first national research database of vacancy duration by skill level. In that respect, this report offers a powerful tool for understanding the supply and demand for skills, yet it touches on only a few of many research issues that the data can help address with new clarity and precision. The principle finding is that there is a relative shortage of U.S. workers with STEM skills. This study reveals irrefutable evidence relating to the high demand for STEM workers and the need to provide more and better training to prepare American workers to enter STEM-related careers.

What a great resource for justifying the need for building a strong Career Pathways program in STEM related fields! This report has all the data any adult education administrator would need for writing a grant, meeting the needs of the WIOA  and marketing their current STEM programs. A great read!

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