STEM Skills Are Quickly Obsolete

(p. B8) In a recent working paper with a Harvard doctoral student, Kadeem Noray, I calculated how much the skills required for different jobs changed over time. Help-wanted ads for jobs like software developer and engineer were more likely to ask for skills that didn’t exist a decade earlier. And the jobs of 10 years ago often required skills that have since become obsolete. Skill turnover was much higher in STEM fields than in other occupations.

We can also see this by looking at changes in college course catalogs. One of the largest and most popular courses in the Stanford computer science department is CS229 — Machine Learning, taught by the artificial intelligence expert and entrepreneur Andrew Ng. This course did not exist in its current form until 2003, when Professor Ng taught it for the first time with 68 students, and very little like it existed anywhere on college campuses 15 years ago. Today, the machine learning courses at Stanford enroll more than a thousand students.

. . .

Liberal arts advocates often argue that education should emphasize the development of the whole person, and that it is much broader than just job training. As an educator myself, I agree wholeheartedly.

But even on narrow vocational grounds, a liberal arts education has enormous value because it builds a set of foundational capacities that will serve students well in a rapidly changing job market.

For the full commentary, see:

David Deming. “Engineers Start Fast, but Poets Can Catch Up.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, September 22, 2019): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was last updated on Oct. [sic] 1, 2019, and has the title “In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure.”)

The working paper referred to above, is:

Deming, David J., and Kadeem L. Noray. “Stem Careers and Technological Change.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Paper # 25065, June 2019.

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