Jobs requiring science, technology, engineering or math skills take longer to fill

07/01/2014 12:00 AM

07/01/2014 12:18 PM

The difficulty of filling STEM jobs is a challenge, and it’s going to get worse. That’s the assessment of a report published Tuesday.

Across a range of industries and occupations, job postings for science, technology, engineering or math openings are being advertised on employers’ webpages far longer than for non-STEM jobs, the new Brookings Metroplitan Policy Program study finds.

“That’s 100 percent correct,” said Cynthia Smith, recruitment manager at the University of Kansas Hospital. “It’s never been easy to find qualified people for specialized STEM positions. Those jobs have a tendency to take up to 12 weeks to fill, if not a year.”

The Brookings analysis found that STEM openings nationally are advertised for more than twice as long as all other types of jobs.

And sometimes, Smith noted, the jobs have to be re-advertised because initial offers are turned down. The hospital, for example, recently spent seven months and made three offers to fill a very specific cytogenetics laboratory position.

The Brookings report concluded that there is a dearth of applicants who meet advertised STEM qualifications. Other analysts suggest that the hiring problems are worsened because employers look for “perfect” candidates instead of training workers who bring other good qualities to the table and could do the work.

Brookings associate fellow Jonathan Rothwell, the study’s author, said in an interview that comparative recession-era and post-recession data tend to disprove the pickiness argument.

“STEM hiring difficulty fell during the recession,” Rothwell said, “Presumably that was because employers were getting more qualified applicants. It’s basic Economics 101. The supply of qualified workers was higher during the recession.”

There’s also a vibrant national debate about whether U.S. schools are turning out enough STEM-qualified workers. Some reports contend there are plenty of STEM graduates for available jobs.

But in most human resource circles, sentiment tips to there being an inadequate supply of skilled applicants. Kansas City area hirers said they’re competing vigorously to attract engineering graduates in particular. And graduates from many specialized health and computer programs also are being snapped up.

From a database produced by Burning Glass, a labor market analytics company, the Brookings report looked at Kansas City, one of 100 U.S. metro areas it researched. Local data confirmed that on average it takes days or weeks longer to fill openings that require STEM skills than non-STEM openings.

Rothwell said the average job posting duration last year for STEM jobs at Black & Veatch was 45 days; at Burns & McDonnell, 44 days; at Honeywell, 50 days; and at Ericsson, 52 days.

His research found hiring difficulty for doctorate-level jobs as well as for entry-level positions, and for the range of jobs in between.

At Black & Veatch, the Kansas City area’s largest engineering firm, the competition for civil, electrical and mechanical engineers is particularly intense, said Chris Gould, the company’s director of global talent acquisition and mobility.

“We’re having retirements from an aging workforce, we’re seeing less graduates in the field and, since word is out that Kansas City is a strong engineering town, we’re seeing a lot of companies from Houston, Denver and the like coming up here to hire from here,” Gould said. “Our folks have recruiters calling them every day.”

Local recruiters’ experiences endorse studies that detail the global competition for STEM talent. Those studies tend to note that it’s not just traditional high-tech or science companies competing for the workers. It’s just about every employer who needs some kind of computer or high-skill training on staff.

An Adecco consulting report says 75 percent of the fastest-growing occupations require “significant” math or science training. Thus, the competition for such workers is tougher. And the Brookings report contends the supply of workers has not kept up with demand.

“Its convincing data across millions of jobs and hundreds of companies,” Rothwell said.

“Employers, especially in engineering, tell me they’re constantly looking,” agreed Laura Loyacomo, director of the KC STEM Alliance, a nonprofit organization that encourages STEM education. “They say they have to use H-1B immigrant work visas because they can’t find enough U.S. workers. They’d rather hire regionally,” because it’s easier to keep workers who don’t have limited work permits.

Rothwell, the Brookings author, said data show that H-1B hiring is not employers’ first choice, particularly given that the work visas are temporary.

At Honeywell, because of goverment contracting rules, H-1B hiring isn’t permitted. That makes it even more essential for the company to work hard to develop recruiting pipelines with area universities, said Susan Schwamberger, the human resources director at Honeywell.

In “challenging pockets” such as electrical engineering, Schwamberger said, the company works hard to recruit and retain workers.

Electrical and mechanical engineers and “seasoned technical line management positions,” especially jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree plus six years of experience, are the hardest to find at MRIGlobal, said Linda D. Evans, vice president of human resources.

If there’s any comfort in the difficulty, it’s that it’s a national problem that stretches across STEM employers.

The Brookings report found that specialized computer skills, despite having high salary offers, had the longest advertised times among all major occupation groups.

“Employers advertised 255 distinct computer skills in at least 500 job openings for an average of at least 40 to 71 days on their websites,” the report summarized.

And in metro areas such as Kansas City, which has a relatively low unemployment rate for STEM-qualified workers, employers have an even harder time filling jobs. It’s hard for mid-sized Midwest cities to recruit talent from the coasts.

Melinda Tiemeyer, a spokeswoman for Sprint, said the company wouldn’t comment directly about its ability to hire, but it would reinforce the importance of companies supporting STEM education to prepare future workers.

She said the Sprint Foundation has provided $450,000 over the last six years for Project Lead the Way and FIRST Robotics, and $2 million over the last eight years for PREP-KC — all civic projects that encourage STEM career preparation before college.

Society “requires a higher technical understanding than ever before,” Tiemeyer said.

Several Kansas City area employers said they are having luck hiring STEM talent straight out of colleges and universities, but that, too, is competitive.

Meanwhile, the shortage of STEM-skilled workers is having a ripple effect throughout the economy. As employers have to pay ever-higher salaries to get and keep STEM talent, it widens the earnings gap between STEM and non-STEM workers, the Brookings study noted.

And that “exacerbates income inequality across all demographic groups,” Rothwell said.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

STEM jobs in KC metro

Share of job postings on company websites that required STEM skills: 42.1 percent

Share of openings requiring STEM skills and at least a bachelor’s degree: 32.2 percent

Share of jobs requiring STEM skills but less than a bachelor’s degree: 10 percent

Average market value of advertised STEM skill requirements: $58,600

Source: Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and Burning Glass market analytics, first quarter 2013

National duration of advertised STEM job vacancies

Jobs are ranked by the minimum education requirement noted in the ads. The difference between the median and mean columns indicates that some particularly hard-to-fill jobs skew the average posting duration higher.

Median duration of job posts in days

Mean duration of job posts in days

Doctorate/professional degree

25

50

Master’s degree

21

48

Bachelor’s degree

18

42

Associate’s degree

12

40

High school diploma

8

40

No education requirement listed

5

34

All STEM-related openings

11

39

Source: Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and Burning Glass market analytics, first quarter 2013

Percentage of STEM vacancies reposted after one month

Reposting suggests not enough qualified applicants were received to interview for the job opening.

Occupational group

Unfilled rate

Health care

44.6 percent

Computers, engineering, science

40.9 percent

Management, business, legal, design

36.9 percent

Public service

32.8 percent

Service

28.8 percent

Construction, production, transportation, repair

28.2 percent

Source: Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and Burning Glass market analytics, first quarter 2012

Hardest-to-fill jobs, 2014

At least 6 in 10 of each list require some STEM abilities.

Manpower

Career Builder

1

Skilled trades

Computer and mathematical

2

Engineers

Architecture and engineering

3

Technicians

Management

4

Sales representatives

Health care practitioners and related technical

5

Accounting and finance

Installation, maintenance and repair

6

Management/executives

Legal

7

Sales managers

Business and financial

8

Information technology staff

Personal care and service

9

Office support staff

Sales

10

Drivers

Production

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