Subcribe

The Catch-22 STEM Job Market


This article takes an evidence-based (or “data driven”) look at the job market for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) workers using job posts on the popular Craig’s List All San Francisco Bay Area and the nationwide, even international, LinkedIn job boards with a special focus on statistics job posts, by far the most common mathematical jobs in private industry. The key findings of this survey are that there are very few job posts for entry-level or even junior-level STEM positions (less than two years of paid professional work experience). There is very little evidence of training programs, apprenticeship programs, or other means by which entry-level workers such as new college graduates could acquire work experience. The most common range of work experience sought by STEM employers is 3-5 years independent of field, even in fields such as molecular biology that have proven exceptionally complex. The most common single number work experience requirement is five (5) years of experience, at least five (5) years of experience, or “5+” years of experience. It is also quite rare to find job posts seeking more than ten (10) years of work experience.

The STEM job market appears to be a Catch-22 situation where almost the only way to get a job is to have at least two years, usually 3-5 years, of paid professional work experience. In a number of contexts, employers complain that they cannot find qualified STEM workers and that hundreds of thousands, even millions of job listings such as those surveyed allegedly go unfilled. Yet, this is not surprising. For example, for employers to be able to hire 10,000 STEM workers with 3-5 years of paid professional work experience, other employers must have hired 10,000 STEM workers with no experience, 3-5 years before. Only 2-5 percent of STEM job listings are for entry-level or junior-level (less than 2 years of experience) workers. Probably only about 1-2 percent of STEM job listings are for true entry-level workers — no experience. Probably about ninety-five percent of STEM job listings are for STEM workers with 2-10 years of work experience. Thus, it is not surprising that employers are unable to find STEM workers with work experience.

Remarkably, this strong preference for only 3-5 years of work experience prevails across many STEM fields and sub-fields, including fields such as molecular biology that would be expected to have very long, many-year learning curves.

These findings largely mirror the findings of Professor Peter Cappelli of Wharton Business School in his book Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It and in various editorials that he has written and interviews that he has given.

This article is a followup to a previous article What is really hot in STEM jobs? This article backs up some of the statements in the previous article with a larger survey and hard numbers.

The Catch-22 Statistics Job Market

Statistics is by far the largest category of mathematical jobs in private industry. In this article, statistics job posts and jobs includes business analytics, data scientist, predictive modeling, and many “big data” jobs which are currently hot as well as more traditional highly statistical jobs such as actuaries in the insurance industry.

A survey of statistics jobs on LinkedIn revealed very few entry-level or even junior-level (less than two years of experience) jobs, negligible training opportunities, and a strong peaking in the range of 3-5 years of experience. The range of “3-5 years” of experience is the most common range (2-3, 2-7, etc.) requirement. Five years/at least five years of experience is the most common experience requirement for these jobs. As we shall see, remarkably, exactly the same numerical pattern holds for a wide range of different STEM jobs, seemingly independent of field or the complexity and likely learning curve of the subject matter.

Experience Levels for Statistics Job Posts
LinkedIn Anywhere Search (Feb. 23, 2013)

statistics                          4229

Entry Level and Junior Level
 
statistics "entry-level"              53
statistics "new grad"                 10
statistics "new college graduate"     39
statistics "recent college graduate"   4
statistics intern                    112
statistics "summer intern"            13
statistics "new phd"                   1
statistics junior                    175 ("junior" often used in other contexts -- not a job requirement)


Experience Levels in Years

statistics "1+ years"                 31
statistics "2+ years"                419
statistics "3+ years"                492
statistics "4+ years"                282
statistics "5+ years"                762
statistics "6+ years"                123
statistics "7+ years"                164
statistics "8+ years"                153
statistics "9+ years"                 11
statistics "10+ years"               216
statistics "11+ years"                 3
statistics "12+ years"                35
statistics "13+ years"                 2
statistics "14+ years"                14
statistics "15+ years"                69
statistics "16+ years"                 1
statistics "17+ years"                 2
statistics "18+ years"                 9
statistics "19+ years"                 0/4 (off LinkedIn site)
statistics "20+ years"                23
statistics "25+ years"                24
statistics "30+ years"                48

Ranges of Experience in Years

statistics  "2-5 years"               25
statistics  "2-7 years"                2
statistics  "3-5 years"              153
statistics  "3-7 years"                4
statistics  "5-7 years"               72


The Training Gap
statistics "will train"                3
statistics "training provided"         4

A Close Look at the SAS Job Market

I also took a look at the job market for a specific statistics-related skill, the SAS statistical analysis package, one of the mostly widely used statistical packages in private industry. The same patterns are found in SAS job posts. Three to five years of work experience is the most commonly requested range of experience. Five or at least five years of experience is the most common experience requirement. There are very few entry-level positions or evidence of employer provided training. Finally, job posts for ten or more years of experience are rare.

Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 (8:21 pm PST)
LinkedIn "Anywhere" search


Key Word/Phrase           Number                 Notes (if any)


SAS                       2,460

SAS marketing               797
SAS finance                 510

SAS insurance               351
SAS actuarial                80
SAS actuary                  11

SAS real-estate              31
SAS economics               415
SAS econometrics             82

SAS health                  395
SAS medicine                 36
SAS medical                 363
SAS pharmaceutical          218
SAS clinical                296

SAS biostatistics           114 

SAS regulatory              310
SAS regulation               10


Overlap with Other Statistics Key Words and Phrases

SAS MATLAB                  145
SAS SPSS                    419
SAS statistics              858
SAS statistical           1,004
SAS "statistical analysis"  358
SAS "machine learning"       71
SAS "data mining"           332
SAS "text mining"             0
SAS analytics             1,040
SAS predictive              301
SAS "predictive model"       10
SAS "predictive models"      89
SAS "predictive analytics"   64


Credentials

SAS PHD                     178
SAS master's                390
SAS bachelor's              684
SAS BS                      261



Work Experience

SAS entry-level              33
SAS new grad                  4
SAS intern                   25

SAS "1+ years"               24
SAS "2+ years"              255
SAS "3+ years"              317
SAS "4+ years"              170
SAS "5+ years"              449

SAS "6+ years"               83
SAS "7+ years"              113
SAS "8+ years"              134
SAS "9+ years"               12
SAS "10+ years"             123

SAS "15+ years"              21
SAS "20+ years"              11

SAS "2-5 years"              25
SAS "3-5 years"              89
SAS "5-7 years"              34
SAS "3-7 years"               4
SAS "7-10 years"             10


The Training Gap

SAS "training provided"       0
SAS "will train"              2   (3-6 month training period)


Specific Statistical Methods

SAS Bayesian                 23
SAS Markov                    5
SAS likelihood                5
SAS coefficient               1    (GINI coefficient, quant-like job, lots of technical terms)
SAS kurtosis                  1    (quantitative researcher at Facebook) 
SAS Kolmogorov                0
SAS "neural networks"        26
SAS Pearson                   1    (company with name Pearson -- not a true match)
SAS Fisher                    3    (company names again -- not true matches)
SAS "robust statistics"       0
SAS "regression analysis"     0
SAS "least squares"           2
SAS stochastic               20

SAS support vector machine    3
SAS support vector machines   5
SAS "decision tree"          12
SAS "decision trees"         47
SAS Levenberg                 0    (as in Levenberg-Marquardt optimization)

SAS optimization            270    (often non-technical, non-statistics use)



High School and College Math (other than statistics)

SAS Calculus                  1    (quant job)
SAS Algebra                   2
SAS Trigonometry              0
SAS Geometry                  1


The Catch-22 Software Engineer Job Market

Remarkably, almost the same numerical and qualitative patterns can be found in job postings for general software engineering.


Experience Levels for Software Engineer Job Posts
Craig's List, All SF Bay Area, March 2, 2013  12:10pm

software engineer                     953
"work experience" software engineer   117   (experience explicitly qualified as "work experience")


Entry Level and Junior Level

"entry level" software engineer   15
"entry-level" software engineer    2
"0-2 years" software engineer      1
"junior" software engineer        45  (many due to phrases such as "Mentoring junior software engineers" or "guidance for junior team members")
"junior software engineer"         3
"new college grad" software engineer   0
"new college graduate"  software engineer  0
"recent college grad" software engineer 0
"recent college graduate" software engineer 4  (2 tutors, test engineer, technical support engineer)
intern software engineer          14
intern "software enginer"          6
"summer intern" software engineer  0
"software engineer intern"         3
"no experience" software engineer  3  (2 used "no experience" in another context; not a job requirement.  1: THE POSITION IS UNPAID)


Experience Levels in Years

"0+ years" software engineer       1 (Sr. Java Developer: Basic Qualifications:
• 5 Years with BS; 3 Years with Masters; 0 Years with PhD )

"1+ years" software enginer       17
"2+ years" software engineer     116
"2 years" software engineer      116 (appears to be same list as "2+ years")
"3+ years" software engineer     128
"3 years" software engineer      128 (appears to be same list as "3 years")

"4 years" software engineer       78
"5 years" software engineer      232
"6 years" software engineer       25
"7 years" software engineer       54
"8 years" software engineer       58
"9 years" software engineer        3
"10 years" software engineer      55  (significant number have language such as "our company has 10 years experience in xxx")
"15 years" software engineer      17  (significant number have language such as "our company has 15 years experience in xxx")
"20 years" software engineer       7  (significant number have language such as "our company has 20 years experience in xxx")


Ranges of Experience in Years

"0-2 years" software engineer      1
"3-5 years" software engineer     32
"3-7 years" software engineer      4
"5-7 years" software engineer     12
"10-20 years" software engineer    1 (Linux System Administrator job)
"10-15 years" software engineer    0


Experience Related Job Titles

"junior software engineer"             3
"senior software engineer"           124  (astonishingly "senior" often refers to jobs requiring 3-5 years work experience, even 7 years is rare)
"principal software engineer"         15  (often referes to higher levels of experience, such as 10 years, but not always)


The Training Gap

"training provided" "software engineer"   1    (PHP Programmer "Drupal experience or strong willingness to learn Drupal (training provided)")
"will train"  "software engineer"         0
"training provided" software engineer     1    (same PHP Programmer job)
"will train" software engineer            0

The Catch-22 Job Market for Scientists

Even more remarkably, the same patterns can be found for jobs labeled as “scientists.” These include many jobs in molecular biology which has proven extraordinarily complex, with cells containing complex networks of tens of thousands of genes and proteins. Nonetheless, employers seem convinced that only 3-5 years of experience in this extremely complex subject is needed to cure or effectively treat cancer or many other serious medical problems that have defied decades of heavily funded efforts.

Craig’s List

Scientist                                      74    (small majority are biotechnology and/or medical)

Scientist Job Posts by Craig's List Category

scientist ("Engineering Category")              4  (3 geologists, 1 alternative energy)
scientist ("food/beverage/hospitality jobs")    1  (product devlopment chef)
scientist ("education")                         3  (science teachers/tutors)
scientist ("business jobs")                     1  (Model Builder at XXX/Machine Learning/Big Data contract job)
scientist ("science jobs")                     39  (Mostly biotech/medical)
scientist ("healthcare jobs")                  11  (not quite same as "science/biotech" used on Web site)
scientist ("software jobs")                    11  (Big Data etc.)
(NOTE: Craig's List categorization of the jobs is somewhat confusing unfortunately.  "science jobs" and "science/biotech" appear to the same category.)


Scientist Types by Key Word or Key Phrase

scientist clinical                             24
scientist biology                              16
scientist clinical biology                      6  (check overlap)
scientist biotech                               7
scientist biotechnology                         2
scientist health                               19
scientist health clinical                      13  (check overlap)
scientist clinical biotech                      3


Entry Level and Junior Level

"entry level" scientist                1
"entry-level" scientist                0
intern scientist                       1
"new college grad" scientist           0
"new college graduate" scientist       0
"recent college grad" scientist        0
"recent college graduate" scientist    0
"junior scientist"                     0


Experience Level

"0+ years" scientist       0
"1+ years" scientist       2
"2+ years" scientist      10
"3+ years" scientist       4
"4+ years" scientist       6
"5+ years" scientist      15
"6+ years" scientist       1  (spurious match: "XXX has been in business for over 6 years")
"7+ years" scientist       5

"8+ years" scientist        0
"9+ years" scientist        0
"10+ years" scientist       4  (all science/biotech jobs, 8-10 years in one, 10 years preferred (5+ required), at least 10 years in two -- one of which is a managent position)
"11+ years" scientist       0
"12+ years" scientist       0
"13+ years" scientist       0
"14+ years" scientist       0
"15+ years" scientist       0

"20+ years" scientist       1  (spurious match: "...Founded more than 20 years ago")


Ranges of Experience Level

"0-2 years" scientist         0
"2-3 years" scientist         0
"3-5 years" scientist         3
"2-7 years" scientist         0
"3-7 years" scientist         0
"4-7 years" scientist         0
"5-7 years" scientist         4

The Training Gap

"will train" scientist         0
"training provided" scientist  0


NOTE: On Craig's List SF Bay Area plus sign appears to be ignored so that searches for "3+ years" and "3 years" return the same matches.


Scientist Job Posts on the LinkedIn Job Board

A very similar pattern was found with the “Scientist” job postings on the LinkedIn Job Board.

Scientist Jobs Posts
LinkedIn March 2, 2013, 6:28pm

scientist      1311

Health/Medicine/Biotech

scientist biology          224
scientist clinical         383
scientist medical          340
scientist biotech           57
scientist biotechnology    179
scientist health           332
scientist pharmacology      58
scientist genomics          21
scientist bioinformatics    26
scientist genetics          36


Analytics/Data Scientist/Big Data

scientist "machine learning"      163
scientist analytics               159
data scientist                    722
scientist "big data"               85
scientist "information retrieval"  36


Energy/Alternative Energy

scientist battery                 13
scientist "solar power"           2
scientist energy                  158  (a lot of spurious matches for some reason)
scientist "alternative energy"    0 / 150 (off LinkedIn site)
scientist nuclear                 13
scientist tesla                   0 / 56 (off LinkedIn site, mostly Tesla Motors jobs)
scientist bigelow                 0 /  3 (off LinkedIn site, none related to Robert Bigelow or Bigelow Aerospace)


Check Some Overlaps

scientist health clinical          166  (check for overlap)
scientist health medical           144
scientist clinical medical         228


Entry and Junior Level

"entry-level" scientist             10
"entry level" scientist             10  (same 10 as "entry-level" as expected for LinkedIn)

"new college grad" scientist         1   (data scientist)
"new grad" scientist                 4 
"new college graduate" scientist     0 / 472 (off site)
"recent college grad" scientist      0 / 276 (off site)
"recent college graduate" scientist  0 / 276 (off site)
scientist intern                     9
scientist "summer intern"            0 / 1000 (off site)
scientist "no experience"            1   (NOTE: "PhD with no experience.  ")


Experience Levels

"0+ years" scientist                   0 / 1000 (off site)
"1+ years" scientist                  16
"2+ years" scientist                 123
"3+ years" scientist                 132
"4+ years" scientist                  56
"5+ years" scientist                 211
"6+ years" scientist                  50
"7+ years" scientist                  49
"8+ years" scientist                  62
"9+ years" scientist                   6
"10+ years" scientist                 81
"11+ years" scientist                  2
"12+ years" scientist                 11
"13+ years" scientist                  3
"14+ years" scientist                  5
"15+ years" scientist                 32
"16+ years" scientist                  2
"17+ years" scientist                  0 / 110 (off site)
"18+ years" scientist                  6
"19+ years" scientist                  0 / 95 (off site)
"20+ years" scientist                 23
"25+ years" scientist                 27  (many uses such as "In 25 years, XXX has become a leading biopharmaceutical company...")
"30+ years" scientist                 11  (ditto)


Job Titles Related to Experience

"associate scientist"                 46
"senior scientist"                    86
"principal scientist"                 70
"lead scientist"                      13


Ranges of Experience

"0-2 years" scientist                 10
"2-3 years" scientist                  6
"3-5 years" scientist                 39
"5-7 years" scientist                 15
"3-7 years" scientist                  3


The Training Gap

"training provided" scientist          0 / 345  (off site)
"will train"        scientist         11

More on the Training Gap

I took a closer look at the use of the terms “apprentice” and “apprenticeship” which traditionally represent training programs for gaining work-based experience.

Apprentice and Apprenticeship
LinkedIn Anywhere Search
Sunday, March 3, 2013 10:21 AM (PST)

apprentice                           116
apprenticeship                       245

statistics apprentice                  1
statistics apprenticeship              5
statistics                          4209

scientist apprentice                   0 / 100 (off site)
scientist apprenticeship               0 /  76 (off site)
scientist                           1303

software engineer apprentice           6
software engineer apprenticeship      10
software engineer                 17,977

(NOTE: SQL refers to Structured Query Language, the most common database programming language)
SQL apprentice                         4
SQL apprenticeship                     3
SQL                               16,353

Conclusion

The key findings of this survey are that there are very few job posts for entry-level or even junior-level STEM positions (less than two years of paid professional work experience). There is very little evidence of training programs, apprenticeship programs, or other means by which entry-level workers such as new college graduates could acquire work experience. The most common range of work experience sought by STEM employers is 3-5 years independent of field, even in fields such as molecular biology that have proven exceptionally complex. The most common single number work experience requirement is five (5) years of experience, at least five (5) years of experience, or “5+” years of experience. It is also quite rare to find job posts seeking more than ten (10) years of work experience.

The STEM job market appears to be a Catch-22 situation where almost the only way to get a job is to have at least two years, usually 3-5 years, of paid professional work experience. In a number of contexts, employers complain that they cannot find qualified STEM workers and that hundreds of thousands, even millions of job listings such as those surveyed allegedly go unfilled. Yet, this is not surprising. For example, for employers to be able to hire 10,000 STEM workers with 3-5 years of paid professional work experience, other employers must have hired 10,000 STEM workers with no experience, 3-5 years before. Only 2-5 percent of STEM job listings are for entry-level or junior-level (less than 2 years of experience) workers. Probably only about 1-2 percent of STEM job listings are for true entry-level workers — no experience. Probably about ninety-five percent of STEM job listings are for STEM workers with 2-10 years of work experience. Thus, it is not surprising that employers are unable to find STEM workers with work experience.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this strong preference for STEM workers with only 3-5 years of work experience is that it appears to exist across a wide range of different STEM fields, including fields such as molecular biology that are exceptionally complex and almost certainly require decades to master at a purely technical level. Similar comments could be made about some highly mathematical fields of computer software such as video compression or speech recognition. Nonetheless, three to five years rules.

© 2013 John F. McGowan

About the Author

John F. McGowan, Ph.D. solves problems using mathematics and mathematical software, including developing video compression and speech recognition technologies. He has extensive experience developing software in C, C++, Visual Basic, Mathematica, MATLAB, and many other programming languages. He is probably best known for his AVI Overview, an Internet FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on the Microsoft AVI (Audio Video Interleave) file format. He has worked as a contractor at NASA Ames Research Center involved in the research and development of image and video processing algorithms and technology. He has published articles on the origin and evolution of life, the exploration of Mars (anticipating the discovery of methane on Mars), and cheap access to space. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). He can be reached at jmcgowan11@earthlink.net.

Resources and Suggested Reading

If there is a skills gap, blame it on the employer.
by Peter Cappelli
New York Times
August 3, 2012

Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs
By Peter Cappelli

Peter Cappelli Video Interview on PBS A Need to Know

Peter Cappelli Audio Interview on IEEE Spectrum Podcast


If you enjoyed this post, then make sure you subscribe
to our Newsletter and/or RSS Feed.


4 Responses to “The Catch-22 STEM Job Market”

  1. Can this data be made in to a shareable infographic? This is very good information.

  2. […] commenters on the previous post The Catch-22 STEM Job Market requested a graphical presentation of the data. Note: STEM refers to Science, Technology, […]

  3. L Ighty says:

    Linked In is not the only route to jobs.

    For some positions (scientist) post doc work is common which provides for some experience.

    Some employers have specific foreign persons they wish to hire as inexpensive H-1B and will over specify jobs to get lower paid workers.

    There are back doors for many jobs. If they do not get what they ask for they may train more junior applicants.

  4. Penny says:

    Now how do we BREAK this vicious cycle?? If the statistic remains true that only 3% of college graduates get jobs in their fields, then how are the other 97% supposed to BREAK this vicious cycle? Especially in an economy where there may very well not BE enough truly entry-level positions for the number of STEM graduates that all universities, major and minor, are cranking out every year.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *