Chain of Thought

STEMless MBAs Aren’t Fruitful

Boston Consulting just came out with a head-snapping statement about the skills shortage in manufacturing. They said there isn’t one.

“We believe such fears are overblown—at least for the near term,” the firm’s analysts say. “Our research finds little evidence of a meaningful and persistent skills gap in most parts of the U.S., including in its most important manufacturing zones. The real problem is that companies have become too passive in recruiting and developing skilled workers at a time when the U.S. education system has moved away from a focus on manufacturing skills in order to put greater emphasis on other capabilities.”

What other capabilities? A lot of kids fantasize about being the boss; maybe even being their own boss. They want to run a business. That may be why there seem to be more students flocking to MBA programs than supply chain or engineering programs. And there seem to be plenty of employers looking to grab these kids off education’s assembly line as soon as possible.

An article in the Wall Street Journal this morning says companies are mobbing business schools for young M.B.A. talent, even before these skulls full of mush figure out if this is really what they want to do. To me, this just feeds the skills shortage problem because the best business managers know something about what makes their businesses work—and that’s a combination of science, technology, engineering and math. Put them all together and they spell STEM.

MH&L just conducted its annual advisory board roundtable and most of our participants agreed that careers based on STEM skills aren’t even on the radar screens of most young people. If the U.S. education system is moving away from a focus on manufacturing skills, as Boston Consulting implies, might they be refocusing on manufacturing’s link to consumers—which is the supply chain?

Some are. We recently commented on the National Science Foundation’s funding of the National Center for Supply Chain Technology Education (SCTE) at Norco College in Norco, Calif., as well as what Indiana’s Vincennes University is trying to accomplish with its Logistics Training and Education Center. Both are engaging with the future employers of their students.

However, these are early efforts and have yet to represent a national trend.

So Boston Consulting’s statement that there isn’t a skills shortage in manufacturing must have been intended to snap heads, since most manufacturers already know that their existing staffs of mature, skilled workers are looking forward to retirement and there aren’t many young people schooled in STEM who are ready or willing to take those soon-to-be-vacated positions.

Another recent study by Junior Achievement USA was announced with this headline: “Teens Losing Interest in STEM Careers While U.S. Projects Significant Growth in Field.”  It was based on a survey that revealed a substantial year-over-year decline in teens’ interest in science, technology, engineering, math. It’s worth noting that this is the survey’s 12th year and while almost half (46 percent) of all teens surveyed showed interest in pursuing either a STEM or medical-related job, that represents a 15 percent decrease from last year’s data. And while that interest level is declining, the United States Department of Labor predicts STEM employment opportunities will increase by 17 percent through 2018.  

“It is crucial that we reinvigorate teens about pursuing opportunities in STEM and medical-related careers,” said Jack E. Kosakowski, president and CEO of Junior Achievement USA. “These fields drive our economy and innovation; they are not only high-growth career paths but also creative outlets where teens can apply their passions.”

Maybe if those employers who are so passionate about snatching up half-baked MBAs would shift their interest to fully-baking batches of professionals with all the ingredients that make businesses succeed, they could spend less time counting beans on their balance sheet.

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