Innovation
Irish Innovation: No boom in STEM jobs in Ireland
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Oct 23, 2013 - 6:28 AM

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Seán Sherlock (left), minister for research and innovation, launches Smart Futures STEM Careers Week in Sept 2012. 

Irish Innovation: Almost two-thirds of the 9.3m people in the US workforce who had STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) degrees in 2010 were employed in non-STEM occupations while in many countries including Ireland and Australia, the importance of producing more maths and science graduates is often stressed. However, in both Ireland and Australia, there haven't been jobs booms in the sector despite warnings from insiders and high levels of public funds.

We recently reported that the number of full-time jobs in services and manufacturing added by Irish firms in information and communications technology (ICT) in the period 2007-2012 was 1,600 [pdf].

Full-time jobs in Irish State-agency assisted firms in high-tech manufacturing (chemicals, computers, chips, medical devices) grew from 62,300 in 2003 to 63,200 in 2012 while services jobs in the computer and information sectors expanded from 55,000 to 64,900.

This data isn't broken down by function and many of the jobs in foreign-owned high tech firms may not be science/ technology positions. For example most of the 5,000 jobs in the Irish operations of Apple and Google are in general and sales administration and mainly comprise foreign hires because of the demand for multilingual skills.

The number of researchers in  the higher education system increased from 10,072 in 2006 to 11,900 (estimate +18%) in 2009. The government sector employs about 500 researchers.

A graduate recruitment survey of 95 companies [pdf] published last year showed that almost half the positions available were in accountancy and financial services. IT & telecoms, engineering/manufacturing and science/R&D comprised 24% of the positions.

79.7% of the employers surveyed offer work experience/ internships and 13.3% of employers paid their interns less than €1,000 per month. It's unclear what percentage are likely to be hired.

Some employers complained about the difficulty of filling specialist skills role but there is a world market and a position in Ireland wouldn't be a hardship one.

In Australia, the Grattan Institute said last June that while people with genuine passion for science should study it, jobs in science fields are relatively hard to find, and government promotion of science degrees is sending a misleading signal to the student market.

Andrew Norton of the institute, wrote [pdf]: "The Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, last month unfavourably compared our share of graduates in science and technology with those of various Asian countries. It was the latest in a long series of  speeches and pronouncements talking up the need for more graduates in these fields.

Unfortunately, Professor Chubb gives far less attention to a more relevant set of numbers: the employment prospects of Australians with science degrees. These potentially reframe the problem from one of under-supply to one of over-supply."

Norton cited a rise in applications for science related degree courses by 40% since 2009, and offers by universities are up by nearly a third.

He added:

The Australian Bureau of Statistics asks similar questions of the general population in its Learning and Work survey. It asks respondents whether they work in the same field of study as their qualification, and if not whether they consider their degree 'relevant' nonetheless...Science...is the second-worst performer. It beats creative arts on matching jobs and qualifications, but falls behind because science graduates in unmatched jobs are less likely to see their degree as relevant to their work."

A report by Ruth Ellen Wasem of the Congressional Research Service said [pdf]

Other researchers maintain that a record number of STEM graduates - - both US residents and foreign nationals - - are entering the US labour market. They express concern that foreign  nationals would displace US residents in the STEM fields if additional visas were allocated. Some analysts observe that the only high-skilled occupations that experienced negative wage growth in recent years were technology-related occupations (e.g., computer programmers and engineers) - - occupations in which highly educated foreign nationals cluster. Almost two-thirds of the 9.3m people in the US labour market who had STEM degrees in 2010 were employed in non-STEM occupations."

“Doveryai, no proveryai” (Trust but verify) became President Ronald Reagan’s watchwords for the relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet Union president, in the 1980s. It should apply here also.

With no shortage of spin, Irish politicians out of their depth and tech journalists mainly in the role of cheerleaders, scepticism is warranted.

Finfacts: Irish Innovation: Evidence of science policy failure mounts

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