How many times have we heard the President, the Secretary of Education, and leaders of corporate America tell us that we must produce more scientists? That there are thousands of jobs unfilled because we don’t have qualified college graduates to fill them? That our future depends on pumping billions into STEM education?

I always believe them. Science, engineering, technology and mathematics are fields critical for the future.

But why then, according to an article in the Washington Post, are well-educated scientists unable to find jobs?

Three years ago, USA Today reported  high unemployment among scientists and engineers.

Some experts in science say there is no shortage of scientists, but there is a shortage of good jobs for scientists.

Some say that the pool of qualified graduates in science and engineering is “several times larger” than the pool of jobs available for them. And here is a shocker: The quality of STEM education has NOT declined:

Despite this nearly universal support for upgrading science and math education, our review of the data leads us to conclude that, while the educational pipeline would benefit from improvements, it is not as dysfunctional as believed. Today’s American high school students actually test as well or better than students two decades ago. Further, today’s students take more science and math classes, and a large number of students with strong science and math backgrounds graduate from U.S. high schools and start college in S&E fields of study. 

Why don’t our leaders tell us the truth? Why don’t they tell us that many of our highly trained young people will not find good jobs in research labs or universities or anywhere else?

I have said before on this blog that the economy is changing in ways that no one understands, least of all me.

Over the past century, whenever reformers told the schools to prepare students for this career or that vocation, the policymakers and school leaders were woefully inadequate at predicting which jobs would be available ten years later. When the automobile was first invented, there were still plenty of students taking courses to prepare them to be blacksmiths. The same story could be repeated over the years. We are not good at prognosticating.

My own predilection is to believe that all young people should get a full and rounded general education, which will teach them to think and evaluate new information. I prefer an education that includes the usual range of disciplines, not because of tradition but because each of them is valuable for our lives. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we all need to learn the skills of reading, writing, and mathematics. We don’t know what jobs will be available in ten or twenty years, but we all need to study history, so that we possess knowledge of our society and others; we need an understanding of science so we know how the world works; we need to be involved in the arts, because it is an expression of the human spirit and enables us to think deeply about ourselves and our world. I could make the same claims for other disciplines. The claim must be based on enduring needs, not the needs of the job market, because the only certainty is that the  job market will be different in the future.