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America’s education system is not producing the tech talent we need, at the scale we need it

There is a lot of discussion lately about the future of work - as CoVid has swept the globe, the focus shifted to working remotely and the resulting impact on culture.

In the last few weeks the focus has shifted to issues in diversity and inequity - and not just in the workplace.

These are critical issues to the world of work, and certainly the levels of diversity issues in tech are problems to solve with immediate action.

The Wired article Five Years of Tech Diversity Reports—and Little Progress shows just how bad it is. Whilst tech firms are often associated with being highly progressive in their cultures, the fact remains that people of color and women are very disproportionately represented.

Reading around the topic, it’s clear that there are some cultural issues across the industry that these employers are committed to addressing. The numbers are likely indicative of the industry as a whole, and one of the major drivers of this disparity is the state of STEM education, and the resulting low numbers of available skilled talent to hire.


To take a pause for a moment, it goes without saying that we at American Apprenticeships consider ourselves an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement, and to those wishing to address diversity in the workplace.

We have always believed that apprenticeships not only close the skills gap for businesses, but they address the opportunity gap for society. Taking control of your talent pipeline as an employer means you can proactively address diversity and inclusion in your workplace.

At a time when hiring demands for new collar tech jobs continue to grow, and the reality hits home of the absence of available ‘off the shelf’ talent in the existing labor pool - we find employers in a situation where they need to build their own talent.

This is a transformational opportunity, and there could not be a more direct solution for addressing balance in the workplace than Apprenticeships. An earn-while-you-learn job based framework that builds skilled capabilities for an employer and kick starts new-collar careers for diverse talent, young and old.

This blog is focusing on the pipeline of STEM talent in the US, and why there is not enough skilled labor available to hire. We will address diversity in more detail in a future blog, as we are trying to keep listening at the moment and learning.


When we look at the skills required by the ‘future of work’, we often include skills like: Data, AI, Machine Learning, Software Development & Coding, IT, Cybersecurity, and so on...

Fifty years ago, employers would often train the skills they needed. Today employers tend to rely on the academic graduate pipeline for fresh young talent, and those mid-career wanting to learn a new field can expect to have to go back to night school or college under their own steam.

So to gauge where talent for the future of work is to come from we need to look at STEM.

Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths.

If we look at the existing workforce, there are major STEM skills shortages - and studies point to a significant lack of data literacy across all levels and industries beyond those already specializing - with only 24% of business leaders are confident in their own ability to use data.

Despite major increases in popularity over recent years, the numbers of students performing well at high school, or enrolling in STEM related courses in post-high school education is insufficient.

My colleague Charlie recently published an article on LinkedIn addressing this issue based on the research we conducted for our Executive Workforce Study from Q1 2020.

In a previous blog, we established that there were 1.1M open tech jobs in the US, and our research suggests this will grow by around 200k per year for the next few years.

If we look at high school education, then globally the US is mid-table when it comes to STEM performance - with math & science proficiency not growing at a fast enough rate over recent years to suggest that we will see a new wave of talent graduating. The Smithsonian Science Institute found 78% of high school graduates don't meet benchmark readiness for one or more college courses in mathematics, science, reading, or English.

This is why many foundations like FORD NGL are committing resources to building STEM talent in communities across America.

If we look at education post high school there are encouraging signs. 86% of high school grads plan to start a STEM related career, and being very broad in our definition (the use of basic math and computers) then 3 out of 4 graduates had STEM related skills.. But that’s not converting to graduates with skills that meet hiring criteria.

Even with over half a million US STEM graduates in 2018 data - we have many doctors, biologists, chemists, engineers, and scientists. Most of whom will go into their specialty areas in science or medicine and not enter the new collar labor pool.

Being specific, there are only 111k computer science graduates in 2018.

What’s more, a significant portion of them will not join the new collar labor pool. When it comes to computer science, only 53% of men, and 38% of women are pursuing computer science having graduated in that major.

Even if you include alternative pathways like coding bootcamps - in 2019 this added 23k.

This is how we arrive at the conclusion of there being such a short supply of talent for new collar jobs.

Even with all 111k computer science graduates and the bootcamp grads, we only have 134k skilled workers available on the market.

This pipeline today and for the foreseeable future is nowhere near the growth required to address labor market needs.

So the short answer is America is not producing the skills we need, at the scale we need.

We are here to help you build it.

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