‘STEM-phasis’ revisited

Job outlook for science and engineering grads not so clear

Is there a shortage of engineers and scientists in the U.S. work force?

The popular opinion is yes, the American education system isn’t producing enough science and math graduates. But new research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corp. and the Urban Institute has countered this long-cited outlook with evidence that the reverse is actually true: There are more science and engineering workers in the U.S. than there are jobs.

But does this apply in Colorado as well? Depends who you ask.

“It’s hard to make a blanket statement that there is a shortage of engineers,” said Marilen Reimer, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Colorado. “Our member consulting engineering firms are telling me that they are finding it difficult to find experienced engineers, especially mechanical and electrical professional engineers with 10-15 years of experience.”

Reimer noted that the recent recession had a major impact on civil engineers specifically, pushing them into other fields like finance, law and teaching. “That discipline is still recovering,” she said.

Others in the field report that the talent shortage – or surplus – varies by specialty.

“We have not had any issue filling graduate level engineering positions with great, qualified candidates today,” said Maura Horn, vice president of global talent development at engineering firm MWH Global. “There are more qualified candidates than we have positions to fill.”

Horn said part of the shift is due to the fact that there are now software programs that have taken over the jobs of some design engineers. “However, we do struggle to fill more specialist roles, those requiring five to nine years of engineering experience in a specific discipline area,” she said.

According to Alan Krause, CEO of MWH, “It is a big problem, especially companies that are more U.S.-based. U.S. universities are graduating a fraction of what we see, for example, in China.” He said MWH competes with other similar firms to find talent domestically.

“And then the biggest challenge is to keep them,” Krause said. “We invest in training with an internal university to offer skills and courses that are not generally taught in academic curriculums. We have an inspirational leadership course, with 50 to 100 people in Denver for a week every quarter to invest in leaders for the industry.”

As for college graduates in STEM  (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), those at the Colorado School of Mines are seeing their studies pay off, according to Jean Manning-Clark, director of Mines’ Career Center. She said 91 percent of the school’s students have either moved on to a job or are pursuing additional education. And perhaps more importantly, she said companies continue to work to court Mines graduates. “We still see a high demand,” she said, adding that 230 science and engineering companies attended the school’s recent career fair.

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