Why STEM Graduates are Choosing Other Fields

Written by: Reagan Flowers, Ph.D.

A new factor has recently come to light in the issue of unfilled STEM jobs. This new study shows that anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of STEM graduates do not work in a STEM job. This varies by STEM specialty, but could be as high as 72 percent.

It has long been thought that STEM labor shortages are the result of students not pursuing STEM majors. This is true in some part and we at C-STEM do our part to encourage Black, impoverished students in embracing and continuing their STEM studies.

However, there are other issues at play. Let’s take a look at these and how we might address them.

Graduates are Entering Other Fields After Earning Degrees

While many of us in the STEM community are aware of those who leave the workforce after a few years, new data shows many are not even entering STEM careers. A large proportion of STEM graduates never enter STEM professions at all. In fact, studies have found that 45 percent of U.S. STEM majors took a non-STEM job after graduation and another 20 percent were in graduate school studying a non-STEM subject.

The study cited a discrepancy between perceptions about STEM jobs versus reality. Those who enter STEM majors imagine things like laidback hours, extremely high salaries. However, as new graduates start interviewing for positions, they find they may have to work long hours for merely adequate salaries.

Another factor is stability. Many STEM jobs center on emerging technologies, which can create volatility. Sometimes work is steady and other times there are layoffs.

Though it is important to highlight opportunities in STEM for preK-12 students, we must also realistically portray STEM careers. That’s why mentorship and bringing STEM professionals into the classroom are so important. Students need to know that not all STEM careers are the same. Some offer more stability, while others offer higher pay. Some STEM careers offer steady hours, while others are more demanding. Having a clearer picture will empower students to earn degrees they are more likely to apply to a STEM career.

Employers Need to Focus on Their Employees

Another issue is the emphasis employers place on new STEM employees. Instead of taking care of their current employees and eliminating toxic workplace environments, they simply let unhappy employees leave and keep bringing in new graduates.

As I’ve discussed previously in my blogs, issues that STEM employees face are bias, discrimination, lack of diversity, difficulty advancing, and stressful conditions. In particular people of color and women find themselves in environments where they are paid less than their counterparts and find little diversity around them.

In summary, it seems that many of the workforce issues in STEM are due to the companies operating in those spaces. In addition to being transparent about their company cultures, it is essential that they treat employees fairly and with respect. 

Yes, it is essential to have enough STEM graduates and at C-STEM we do our best to get them there. However, they need to be able to enter the STEM workforce and flourish. This also an opportunity for education to connect in new ways, uniting to focus more on the employee base than on the pipeline.

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11th Annual State of STEM Education Stakeholder Breakfast

Please join us at The Junior League of Houston from 7:30-9:00 AM

11th Annual State of STEM Education Stakeholder Breakfast

Please join us at The Junior League of Houston from 7:30-9:00 AM