STEM Shortage

tl;dr There’s no shortage of engineers in this country.

All my life I have heard about the incredible shortage of engineers in the United States. There’s just far too much demand for engineering talent, and our schools are simply not producing anywhere near the number of graduates we need to fill these positions.

Heck, I chose engineering in large part because of this shortage. I thought if I could succeed in this industry then I would have a job guaranteed for life. Although it does help that building stuff is actually really cool. 🙂

Back in April of thisyear, a study was released from the Economic Policy Institute which has shed some light on this story:

from the paper:

  • The flow of U.S. students (citizens and permanent residents) into STEM fields has been strong over the past decade, and the number of U.S. graduates with STEM majors appears to be responsive to changes in employment levels and wages.
  • For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.
  • In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.

Notice those last two bullets? Basically we are graduating about 2x as many engineers as can find jobs, and the second bullet says that it’s not because the kids aren’t good enough at engineering (a common complaint from employers) but rather they were offered better opportunities in other fields.

Basically I have been scratching my head since I learned about economics with this simple question. “If there is a shortage of engineers, why are they not the most highly paid workers in an organization?”

I would have thought the laws of supply and demand would bear out salaries that were higher than lawyers (of which there seems to be no shortage) or even possibly CEOs, which based on compensation you would think we have a major shortage of in this country. We should be begging Congress to allow highly skilled CEOs from other countries to come in on H1B Visas in order to help us compete as a nation.

Now I realize the compensation is potentially more complicated than this, but it’s always bugged me.

The reality is this: There is NO lack of engineering talent in the United States. There is only a lack of cheap talent. When CEOs stand in front of Congress and decry how they can’t possibly fill their engineering positions, what they’re really saying is “we can’t fill our engineering positions at the price we’re willing to pay”.

When H1B Visa workers come to the United States, they are basically tied to the employer who brought them here. Because of the rules, they aren’t free to jump ship if that employer treats them badly, or if another employer offers them a better opportunity. Although by law H1B Visa candidates have to be paid comparable wages to non-H1B candidates, their inability to go after better opportunities stagnates their wages which in turn winds up stagnating the wages of non-H1B candidates at large corporations like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, etc.

What I want is for the H1B program to be available to more people with less restrictions on employment.