In the wake of the wave that is the technology era (or what some would call the tech bubble), there lies a silver-lined, yet grim narrative: it is the story of the impact of technological advancements on the job market and the slow shift from traditional positions; for example, financial services, education, health, and so on, most of which are filled by middle-class Americans (those that fall within the pay range of $30,000-68,000 a year), to positions oriented to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, otherwise known as STEM.

STEM Employment

This shift is what some social scientist have begun calling “technological determinism,” or the idea that technology fuels social change. Implied by this notion is the idea that advancements in technology will outpace the ability of individuals to cope with change–think automation. Basically, within the next 10-20 years many positions currently held by low-level employees can and will be automated, which will result in either phasing out the need for human resources in certain fields, or increasing demands on current employees to gain the necessary skills to effectively utilize the new technology in order to stay relevant and useful.

Since the recession five years ago, unemployment has remained relatively high compared to previous years (now currently sitting around 7.2 percent), but according to an article posted in US News World Report there is an apparent contradiction: while unemployment seems to be abnormally high (historically speaking), large numbers of jobs are simply going unfilled. That is to say that, despite the fact that the unemployment rate has hovered somewhere between 7 and 9 percent over the past 5 years, the number of job openings has not substantially decreased (and may have even increased), but are unable to be filled due to potential employees lacking the necessary skills and training.

Even with more than 13 million Americans unemployed, the manufacturing sector cannot find people with the skills to take nearly 600,000 unfilled jobs, according to a study last fall by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte.

As a student preparing to graduate, the primary concern for post-graduation outlooks and also the source of much anxiety (and other related psychological barriers) is finding stable employment. It seems, however, that these stressors can be mitigated early by simply choosing a major that is A) in high demand and B) most likely to present the best employment opportunities as this eliminates the uncertainty that is presumably the cause of the anxiety, and many argue that the best majors for the future may fall within one of the four STEM categories.

STEM Salary

While this may not be a particularly viable option for everyone, it seems that the looming threat of machines as competition for traditional jobs dictates that everyone at least have a working knowledge of technology, else risk being phased out (as if he or she were old technology). And the benefits of making the switch could potentially outweigh the costs as Hope Gillette at Voxxi.com notes, “[a]ccording to George Washington University’s Face the Facts initiative, professionals with STEM degrees earned an average of $77,880 a year in 2009, but only 10.7 percent of diplomas handed out during that year were for STEM courses.”

For more information on the state of STEM please visit these sites (pdf reader required):

  1. Department of Professional Employees: An Occupational Overview
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: STEM Occupations: a visual essay

How important do you see STEM positions being in the future? Do you think there is a need for educational reform at least on the collegiate level in order to increase the productivity of American students in these four areas? Are there other majors you see as emergent that are not listed here?

[cc photo credit to Terriko via Flickr]