The D.C. area is brimming with STEM jobs, and they’re hard to fill

With Washington’s reputation as a government town, many people outside the region may not think of this area as a hub for STEM jobs — positions requiring science, technology, engineering and math skills.

But a new study released this week by the Brookings Institution finds a comparatively large and competitive market here for those kinds of jobs.

“It’s right up there with places like San Jose; San Francisco; Austin, Texas; Chapel Hill, N.C. — places that are considered tech hubs,” said Jonathan Rothwell, the study’s author and a senior research associate at Brookings’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

Many labor-market studies look at how many net new jobs were created in certain industries in an effort to understand what kinds of workers are most in-demand.

The Brookings study took a different approach: Using data from Burning Glass, a company that analyzes online job postings, Brookings examined 4.7 million online job ads from 52,000 companies, crunching what kinds of skills the positions required and how long the advertisements stayed online. (Presumably, if an ad stays up for a long time, it is difficult to fill. If it comes down quickly, it is likely easier to fill.) Researchers then compared the results for the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the nation.

The Washington area stood out on several measures. More than 55 percent of the job postings here during the first quarter of 2013 required STEM skills. Of the 100 metropolitan areas, only two had a larger share of STEM postings during the same time period.

And the region ranks second in the country for the share of its STEM jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree: 48.8 percent.

The D.C. region wasn’t only highly ranked when it came to STEM jobs; it also had the second-largest number of job postings overall. With 47,004 postings here in the first quarter of 2013, only New York, a much more populous area, had more overall postings.

“Because of that extraordinary demand for skilled and educated workers, there’s hiring difficulty — despite the fact that the D.C. metro area also happens to be one of the most-educated areas in the country,” Rothwell said.

The Brookings report also examined the job vacancy data at a national level, determining that the median vacancy for a STEM position, 11 days, is more than twice as long as the median vacancy for jobs that don’t require STEM skills.

The report used some examples from well-known companies to drive home this point. Rothwell writes: “Google advertised over 100 vacancies for computer workers in the San Jose metropolitan area in early 2013, and the ads were posted for an average of 97 days. In the same area, Google posted almost 100 ads for sales occupations, but only for an average of 56 days.”

He found similar differences in other industries. At Volvo’s facility in the Greensboro, N.C., metropolitan area, postings for architecture and engineering jobs were up for an average of 79 days. For “business workers,” ads lasted an average of only 22 days.

Another key finding was that STEM jobs that required the highest level of education were also the hardest to fill. Jobs that required a PhD were posted for a median of 25 days; compared with a median of 11 days for STEM jobs overall.

Other patterns emerged, too, in how quickly job postings tend to be taken down. A large share of job postings, 44 percent, are taken down within one day. Rothwell said one explanation for this could be “that the hiring is going to be internal or they already have a candidate in mind, but just as a matter of best practices, [they] post the job for a nominal period of time.”

Two-thirds of job postings hang around on the Web for 33 days; 20 percent are up for at least 70 days.

The study notes that it is difficult to use job vacancy data to get a handle on the hiring situation in the retail and service industries. For one, many mom-and-pop shops do not advertise their openings online. And many big-box retailers and restaurant chains with high-turnover, low-skill jobs post hiring advertisements almost constantly, even if they haven’t just lost a worker or added a new position.

Capital Business is The Post’s weekly publication focusing on the region’s business community. For more Washington business news,
go to www.capbiz.biz.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.

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