Still Searching: Job Vacancies and STEM Skills

In recent years, Ohio’s businesses have lamented the challenge of hiring highly skilled employees. Surprisingly, this has occurred even as 7 percent of able-bodied Ohioans have been unemployed. Some have argued that the crux of the problem boils down to a mismatch between the needs of employers and the skills of job-seeking workers. A new study from Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution sheds new light on the difficulty that employers face when hiring for jobs that require skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Using a database compiled by Burning Glass, a job-analytics company, the Rothwell examines 1.1 million job postings from 52,000 companies during the first quarter of 2013. The study approximates the relative demand for STEM vis-à-vis non-STEM jobs by comparing the duration of time that the job vacancies are posted. Hence, a job posted for an extended period of time is considered hard to fill (i.e., “in demand”).[1] As expected, Rothwell finds that STEM-related job postings were posted for longer periods than non-STEM jobs. STEM jobs were advertised, on average, for thirty-nine days, compared to thirty-three days for non-STEM jobs. The longer posting periods for STEM jobs were consistent across all education levels—from STEM jobs that required a minimum of a graduate-level degree to “blue-collar” STEM jobs that required less than a college degree. For Ohioans, the study also includes a useful interactive webpage that slices the data for the state’s six metropolitan areas (Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo). The study provides us with some hard evidence that workers possessing STEM skills have a relative advantage over those who do not. If one of the end goals of K–12 education is to prepare students for in-demand jobs, Ohio’s policies should focus on upgrading the quality of STEM education.

SOURCE: Jonathan Rothwell, Still Searching: Job Vacancies and STEM Skills (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, July 2014).

[1] The analyst notes that vacancy duration isn’t a perfect measure of demand, since lower-skilled job openings, like retail sales, are sometimes posted continuously. The inclusion of these “always open” non-STEM jobs suggests that the analysis actually understates the difficulty of hiring for STEM positions.


Aaron Churchill
Aaron Churchill is the Ohio Research Director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.