We've heard a lot over the past few years about the presumed shortage of students interested and skilled in STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. The phrase "STEM shortage" gets repeated so often that it has become accepted as fact, with all sorts of dubious data called up to support it.
In many cases, the shortage is claimed to be geographic, with some regions of the word focused on STEM topics, while students in other areas are spending their time on feel-good majors and "XYZ studies." The unfortunate joke is that they are really preparing for careers as baristas at Starbucks (not that there is anything wrong with that, of course).
Yet, it's worth stepping back and asking: how real is the "shortage? Is it uniform or are there areas of both shortage and surplus? What's a "shortage", anyway?
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, "Is There a STEM Crisis or a STEM Surplus?" explored the challenges of defining and assessing this STEM shortage, and to what extent it is real, if at all. The answers, in brief, fall along these lines: 1) it's yes, no, and maybe; 2) it depends in which specific area; and 3) it depends on the technical level as well.
The article also cited a 2013 article in IEEE Spectrum, The STEM Crisis Is a Myth, which made a strong case that there is no overall shortage. Part of the problem is that the industry needs are often out of synch with and academic programs. If an area is "hot," students flock to it, but by the time they have graduated and have some hands-on experience, that area may have cooled off considerably.
What really amazed me about the IEEE Spectrum article is the turnabout from their historical attitude. Several decades ago – and I am showing my age range here – an independent "gadfly" named Irwin Feerst and his "Committee of Concerned Electronic Engineers" ran a lonely and frustrating campaign against the IEEE's incessant drum-beating that we needed more engineering students; see "The legacy of Irwin Feerst. " His point was not only was there no shortage (if there were, engineering wages would rise and yet they had been relatively flat), but that the IEEE itself was biased. As an organization whose members were largely in academia, he argued that the IEEE leadership had a vested interest in proclaiming "shortage" to help fill those classroom seats and also getting more graduate students into the system as low-cost assistants.
The same "shortage or not" question certainly exists for the mystical art and science of analog design (that includes power and RF design, as well). For years, I've hear the pleas that analog is not taught in school, students don't know an op amp from a logic gate, and so on. Yet somehow, the analog vendors seem to have sufficient staff and resources to release many products ranging from basic building blocks to leading-edge amazing ones.