Filling Our Talent Pool: Strong Record, But Missed Opportunity?

Silicon Valley has an enviable track record of filling (and sometimes refilling) our pool of tech workers year after year.  This is important because Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) talent is a key competitive asset in innovation regions as STEM skills are critical in researching, developing, improving, and scaling innovative technologies, business and processes.  Today, our region has a large absolute number of STEM workers compared to other innovation regions.

Silicon Valley also has a much higher concentration of STEM talent than many other innovation regions—that is, the proportion of STEM workers in the overall workforce relative to the national average.  Absolute numbers are important, but high concentration is too—indicating a strong specialization in STEM talent-driven industries in the regional economy.  Some regions have large absolute numbers but low concentrations (e.g., Southern California, New York City region), while others have higher concentrations but lower absolute numbers (e.g., Seattle, Boston, Austin).  Silicon Valley actually ranks among the highest on both measures.

Not surprisingly, the Valley is almost three times more concentrated in STEM workers than the nation as a whole.  But, it is also almost 50% more concentrated than the Boston region, and close to 40% more than Seattle and Austin.  While Southern California and the New York City region both have larger absolute numbers of STEM workers, they have a much smaller concentration of such workers given their overall labor forces.

talentpool_svcip2016As important, Silicon Valley has grown its STEM advantage over the past decade.  Between 2005 and 2015, the region’s concentration of STEM talent grew 22%.  Of the comparison regions, only Seattle’s concentration increased at a faster rate.   Austin’s pool grew at half the rate of the Valley.  And, strikingly, Boston, Southern California, and the New York City region all lost ground, as their concentration of STEM workers actually declined.

Overall, a good news story, right?  Yes, Silicon Valley has a strong record of expanding its technical talent base.  So, what is the missed opportunity?

stem_svcip2016If we look at the local production of STEM degrees—preparing local residents for Silicon Valley STEM jobs—we find a different story.  Instead of leading the pack, the region ranks behind Boston and Austin, and just ahead of Southern California, Seattle, and the New York City region in the number of STEM degrees conferred per capita.  And, STEM degree production per capita in Southern California and the New York City region grew much faster than that of Silicon Valley between 2014 and 2015.  Boston’s STEM degrees conferred per capita also grew twice as fast as our region.

growthstem-svcipWhy is this important?  We are clearly able to fill our STEM talent pool better than most.  It is important because we have the opportunity to prepare local residents to join our technical talent pool and enjoy the benefits of our regional prosperity.  But, the ticket to play is a STEM degree.  While STEM degree production in Silicon Valley is growing, it is not growing as fast as many innovation regions.  We will need to do better if we are to capitalize on this “local sourcing” opportunity.

Let us know what you think—including your suggestions for how our region can help local residents attain STEM degrees and join our technical talent pool.


John Melville is Co-CEO of Collaborative Economics