Companies may be having a hard time finding workers with technical science and engineering skills to fill open jobs, but that's not because schools aren't producing enough graduates in these areas, a new report says.
Instead, the report suggests that grads in science, technology, engineering and mathematics--or STEM--are opting for work in other fields. The report, STEM, was released on Thursday by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.
"Students and workers divert from STEM jobs because, while STEM is high paying, STEM students have access to higher-paying career options," the study authors said in a press release.
The report echoes the findings of a 2009 report from Rutgers University that found, contrary to general belief, there was no shortage of STEM graduates at the university level. Instead, the study authors suggested STEM careers weren't attractive to these students, who were choosing to pursue other career paths instead.
Worker shortage or workplace flexibility?
While the mobility of workers with in-demand technical skills may be a problem for the companies competing to hire them, it's good news for STEM students. In addition to the possibility of earning higher wages, STEM graduates can turn their technical training into a solid foundation for careers that may be more creative or offer more leadership opportunities.
Demand for science and technology skills isn't limited to traditional STEM fields such as engineering and science. Instead, technology is becoming a big part of rapidly growing fields such as health care and business services. In addition to offering more diverse career options for STEM graduates, health care and business careers can be more lucrative.
"In school and in the labor market, the pull of wages, personal interests, work interests and work values has allowed STEM talent to divert away from STEM occupations and into other occupations," the report found. "This diversion has put significant strain on the STEM workforce at the most elite levels."
Women remain underrepresented in STEM
The report also confirms what other recent studies have found: STEM is still a man's world. Only 23 percent of STEM workers were women, the report found, compared to an average of 48 percent across occupations. Women are far less likely to earn STEM degrees than men are--only about 12 percent of women who earn a bachelor's degree do so in a STEM field.
The report also found that while both men and women with STEM degrees opt to pursue non-STEM careers, women report doing so for different reasons than men do. While men primarily cited pay and promotional opportunities as why they left STEM fields, 60 percent of women reported family-related reasons.
There is good news for female STEM workers, however: A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce found that women in STEM jobs had a smaller wage gap compared to men than women outside STEM. Women in STEM earned $0.86 for every dollar a man earned, while women outside STEM earned $0.79.
And that's one reason women might not want to opt out of STEM.