Tech sector picks up 103,000 jobs in first half of the year

On the whole, tech jobs are up since 2011, but those clamoring for STEM education may be confounded by slow job growth

A report issued by the TechAmerica Foundation analyzed the U.S. tech job market in the first half of the year and found a modest bump of 103,000 jobs from January through June 2013.

The report comes fast on the heels of freshly sparked discussion about the STEM crisis or whether there's a domestic shortfall in expertise for science, technology, engineering, and math.

According to the report, industry growth for 2013 is so far slightly slower than the previous year: 1.7 percent growth for the first half of the year, as opposed to 1.8 percent for the previous year. But the labor market has on the whole been steadily adding tech jobs, year over year, since 2011.

Tech jobs in the United States are classified in four basic ways: manufacturing, communications, software, and engineering. The biggest growth was in the last two categories, with software adding 40,000 jobs to come in at 1.986 million and engineering adding 51,400 to add up to 1.697 million.

Communications (including Internet) added only 8,400, and manufacturing -- never the bright spot of any domestic labor market -- added a mere 3,500. The addition of any manufacturing jobs at all is in itself good news as manufacturing -- tech manufacturing especially -- is highly susceptible to automation. (As it turns out, even higher-skilled jobs are now being automated as well.)

The authors cite other reports that "document the difficulty of recruiting and filling vacant IT and engineering positions. This highlights the most pressing issue for the U.S. technology industry, the ability to access qualified workers." It goes on to recommend increasing the number of STEM students satisfy future demand, or failing that, to "augment this shortfall with the best and the brightest from around the world."

But much new debate has surfaced about the real nature of the STEM crisis. Robert N. Charette, writing for IEEE Spectrum, went so far as to say the STEM crisis is a myth. To him, the problem is not the workers, but the job market. He pointed out that some 11.4 million STEM degree holders work in fields unrelated to STEM, in big part because the job vacancies simply aren't there for them.

Charette also looked at a broader pool of stats than TechAmerica did and found that part of the problem is the way STEM job numbers are tracked: Different organizations tally different jobs as being STEM-related. "Highly competitive science- and technology-driven industries are volatile," Charette notes, "where radical restructurings and boom-and-bust cycles have been the norm for decades."

Charette pointed out that even for the fastest-growing STEM market sector -- the IT industry -- a third of the people who hold degrees for that field but don't work there cited lack of available positions as their reason for working elsewhere.

In short, while tech employment is up slightly, it's barely increased enough year-over-year to satisfy the demand for the number of people claiming to pursue careers in tech -- or to justify the sense of panic that not enough domestic STEM expertise exists.

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