26 Jun 2013

The Opportunity Costs of STEM Degrees and the Unmet Needs of the Low-Skilled

Two labour market problems explained

Ilaria Maselli / Miroslav Beblavy

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There is general consensus that to achieve employment growth, especially for vulnerable groups, it is not sufficient to simply kick-start economic growth: skills among both the high- and low-skilled population need to be improved. In particular, we argue that if the lack of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is a true problem, it needs to be tackled via incentives and not simply via public campaigns: students are not enrolling in ‘hard-science’ subjects because the opportunity cost is very high.

As far as the low-skilled population is concerned, we encourage EU and national policy-makers to invest in a more comprehensive view of this phenomenon. The ‘low-skilled’ label can hide a number of different scenarios: labour market detachment, migration, and obsolete skills that are the result of macroeconomic structural changes. For this reason lifelong learning is necessary to keep up with new technology and to shield workers from the risk of skills obsolescence and detachment from the labour market.

Ilaria Maselli is a Researcher at CEPS and Miroslav Beblavý is an Associate Senior Research Fellow at CEPS and Coordinator of the NEUJOBS project.