Little evidence of STEM skill shortage: Report

A non-profit organization that regularly assesses public issues has issued a report that runs against widely repeated arguments in the technology industry about concerning the IT talent gap.

Businesses have always complained about the lack of information technology talent, however, the report indicates there is little evidence of a shortage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills in the country.

Even as government and industry leaders harp at the need to increase the workforce equipped with STEM skills, a report by the Council of Canadian Academies released on Thursday includes figures showing that corporate investment in the education of employees have been on the decline for decades.

The council is made up of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineers, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. The CCA is a non-profit organization which received a $30 million grant from the Canadian government in 2005 for the council’s core operation for 10 years. The council operates at arm’s length from the government but is mandated to conduct up to five assessments per year on subjects proposed by the federal government.

According to the report, titled Some Assembly Required: STEM Skills and Canada’s Economic Productivity, since 1993, Canadian companies have cut investment on skills training by as much as 40 per cent.

“Overall the panel found no evidence of a current imbalance between the demand for and supply of STEM skills at the national labour market,” according to the authors of the report.

The council said there may be “short-term and localized” skills imbalances.

Not only did the council say there is little evidence of a talent gap, the organization also played down the role STEM skills play in the country’s productivity.

The council “also found insufficient direct evidence on the exact nature and impact of STEM skills on innovation and productivity,” according to the report. “…While the theoretical reasons for a link between STEM skills and innovation are clear, there is currently little evidence on the specific contributions of advanced STEM skills to productivity growth, or the magnitude of these effects.”

“These findings suggest that the source of Canada’s productivity problems is not a shortage of advanced STEM skills,” the report also said.

The council made it clear that it views STEM skills as critical to a variety of education and job opportunities and long-term investments in such skills are crucial is building a “skilled society prepared to respond to an uncertain future.”

“Beyond preparing students and the labour force for a range of future possibilities, these investments appear to be one of the several components required to improve Canada’s poor innovation and productivity record,” wrote David Dodge, chair of the panel on STEM skills.

The council found small-scale skills mismatches by industry and by region but said it is difficult to assess with the available data. It also pointed out that new technologies continually create new industries and occupations that did not exist before.

Rather than rushing to fill in labour gaps that might shift in the near future the council recommended that the government and industry sectors should focus on “long-term and sustained” development in fundamental skills for STEM literacy.

“Investments at the pre-primary through the secondary school levels are important to develop a STEM-literate society with strong fundamental skills,” the report said, “This action may be an important step towards improving Canada’s poor innovation record.”

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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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