Media Briefings

THE GEEKS HAVE INHERITED THE EARTH: STEM knowledge needed to apply for one in six non-techie jobs in the UK

  • Published Date: April 2017

Half a million jobs in traditionally non-techie subjects every year are now asking for knowledge of science, technology, engineering and maths – known as ‘STEM’ subjects – according to an analysis of UK job vacancies between 2012 and 2016 by Inna Grinis, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference at the University of Bristol in April 2017.

The study trained a computer to ‘read’ the job postings to find where STEM skills – for example, coding – were required outside traditional STEM job sectors. The results show that 35% of all STEM jobs are now in these non-STEM sectors – and that one in six jobs posted outside the science and technology sector requires these skills.

The researcher points out that this doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a massive shortage of scientists and engineers, just a rising demand for skills that could be satisfied by STEM courses as part of other degrees. ‘I find that the STEM skills and knowledge could, in many cases, be acquired with less training than a full-time degree – for example learning how to code in C++.’


In the UK, less than half of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) graduates work in STEM occupations (such as Scientists or Engineers).

If, as is often thought, all recruiters in ‘non-STEM’ occupations (for example, Graphic Designers or Economists) neither require nor value STEM knowledge & skills and simply like hiring STEM graduates for their problem solving and analytical abilities, this apparent leakage from the ‘STEM pipeline’ should be considered as problematic because a STEM education is more expensive and difficult to acquire than a non-STEM one.

This paper sheds new light on the issue by developing a novel approach to identifying STEM jobs through the keywords collected from online vacancy descriptions, and not, as is typically done, by classifying occupations discretely into STEM versus non-STEM, then considering all the jobs belonging to the first group as ‘STEM’ and the rest as ‘non-STEM’.

This approach is made possible by having access to a large dataset, collected by the firm Burning Glass Technologies, which contains information on all vacancies posted online in the UK between 2012 and 2016.

I design and evaluate machine learning algorithms to identify STEM jobs as those whose recruiters are more likely to look for STEM rather than non-STEM graduates because the advertised position requires certain skills and knowledge that are exclusively or much more likely to be taught in STEM disciplines (for example, ‘Systems Engineering’), and/or involves job tasks, tools and technologies for which a STEM education is typically required (e.g. ‘C++’, ‘Design Software’).

This job-level analysis reveals that STEM jobs should not be equated with STEM occupations. In fact, 35% of all STEM jobs belong to non-STEM occupations and 15% of all postings in non-STEM occupations are STEM.

Moreover, equating STEM jobs with STEM occupations leads to underestimating the overall demand for STEM knowledge and skills since STEM jobs outnumber jobs in STEM occupations, for example, by half a million STEM employment opportunities in 2015.

I also find that STEM jobs are associated with higher wages within both STEM and non-STEM occupations, even after controlling for detailed occupations, education, experience requirements, etc.

Although, overall, thee findings suggest that the leakage from the STEM pipeline may be less wasteful than typically thought because a significant number of recruiters in non-STEM occupations do require and value STEM knowledge and skills, the issue remains problematic for two main reasons.

First, nothing prevents STEM-educated job seekers taking up non-STEM jobs within non-STEM occupations, for which non-STEM graduates are also qualified and no STEM wage premium is offered.

Second, by exploring the keywords from the job postings, I find that the STEM skills and knowledge posted in STEM vacancies within non-STEM occupations could, in many cases, be acquired with less training than a full-time STEM degree – for example, learning how to code in ‘C++’ does not necessitate a Bachelor in Computer Sciences.

Hence, a more efficient way of satisfying STEM demand within non-STEM occupations could be to teach more STEM in non-STEM disciplines. As I show abstractly, this education policy could reduce STEM shortages in both STEM and non-STEM occupations.


The STEM Requirements of `Non-STEM' Jobs: Evidence from UK Online Vacancy Postings and Implications for Skills & Knowledge Shortages