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CEOs Say Employees Need STEM Training

About 60 percent of job openings require basic science, technology, engineering, and math literacy, and 42 percent require advanced STEM skills, according to a new survey of 126 chief executive officers.

Released today by the Washington-based groups, Change the Equation and the Business Roundtable, the survey looks at CEOs' perceptions of workers' skills. It indicates that 46 percent of respondents said "skills shortages" are "somewhat problematic," and 52 percent said they are "problematic" or "very problematic." The "skills gap" cited in the survey referred to a gap between the skills that employers are looking for and those that job seekers possess (and was not STEM specific).

The CEOs, whose names and companies were not released, are all members of the two groups that administered the survey. The companies they represent work in manufacturing, transportation, finance, information, construction, and other areas, and have a combined revenue of $4.4 trillion. 

In addition, 38 percent of respondents said that at least half of their entry-level applicants lack basic STEM literacy. And 28 percent said at least half of their entry-level hires lack those skills.

Advanced computer/IT knowledge and general business skills were the two STEM skill areas in which CEOs were most likely to say U.S.-based employees typically required additional training "to remediate shortcomings."

The CEOs also said they spent 33 percent of their total training expenses on STEM training in 2013. 

The survey looked at predictions for workforce needs down the road, too. In total, the CEOs indicated they expect to replace 1.6 million workers with basic or advanced STEM skills in the next five years. (For context, the companies employed 5.5 million U.S. employees in 2013.) In an interview, Linda Rosen, the CEO of Change the Equation, said this was the most "daunting" finding. 

"That's a tremendous number," she said. "It shows we have a problem tomorrow, but also a problem next week, speaking figuratively."

Rosen also said she hopes the report's findings change the conversation surrounding the need for an emphasis on STEM. "There's been a lot of pushback as to whether there really is a shortage of STEM workers," she said. "This is a definitive voice from employers saying 'We're hurting in this area.'"

Some research suggests the STEM labor shortage has been overstated, including these reports from IEEE and the Economic Policy Institute.

Below is a chart from the CEO survey, which shows the ways companies believe STEM skill shortages can be addressed. 

CTEQ skills gap.JPG

Contributing Writer Michelle Davis contributed to this blog post. 

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