No Magic Pill

Career necessities of a supply and demand economy

by Teresa Whitacre

Many viewpoints exist about whether there will be a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) job applicants as more baby boomers retire. My outlook on the situation is viewed through the law of supply and demand.

There are 600,000 STEM jobs available,1 and six out of 10 supply chain jobs are unfilled.2 This glut of open positions raises the question: "Why are quality professionals and individuals in supply chain and STEM fields having a hard time getting hired in their respective industries?"

A study on the supply chain of middle-skills jobs revealed that the labor shortage could be a skills mismatch rather than an applicant shortage.3 In other words, there may be a large number of job candidates who are just a few qualifications shy of filling in some open STEM positions.

Let’s look at the facts: Labor and unemployment statistics from late 2015 show the United States had a 5% unemployment rate (7.9 million people).4

Maybe these unemployed individuals could fill the 600,000 openings in STEM and supply chain fields. And they might need to add a few essential skills and a small amount of experience to get their careers back on track.

I’ve experienced periods of steady employment and times when finding work was a struggle, and I’ve helped friends navigate ups and downs in their careers. To maintain a solid foothold in the quality field’s job market, start by answering some basic questions. So, what’s keeping you from employment?

Is it geography?

People may not live in areas where work is available, and relocation might not be desired or possible. But if all the jobs they are qualified for are located outside their preferred areas, they must decide whether they want to change their profession or geography. This leaves some people feeling trapped between a rock and hard place, but being jobless requires tough decisions to keep your career afloat.

Is it your skill set?

An organization might have a job opening that requires coordinate measuring machine skills, for example, but it didn’t receive applicants with that skill set; or maybe there weren’t any applicants that met the job’s industry experience requirements, such as plastics, metals, glass or electronics.

When applying for a job, study the skills, techniques, education, certifications or industry-specific knowledge it requires. If it’s a job or field you truly want to work in, ensure you meet the qualification criteria.

If you’re lacking skills or experience, use those missing pieces as a map for what areas of your résumé you should develop. Consider whether you need additional training, education or whether you should take on a lesser role to gain more experience. This practice helped me maintain steady employment in the quality field.

Attitude or behavior?

Try to get a sense of an organization’s culture and decide whether your attitude fits well with the position and organization. This also could be based on what type of person the employer is seeking.

At a small manufacturing organization I worked with, the CEO believed in using the Predictive Index (PI)—a behavior assessment that gauges how a candidate might handle various situations and management styles—to determine whether someone was the right team member.

For this CEO, it didn’t matter how strong people’s work ethic or technical skills were: If they didn’t fit the position’s desired PI profile, they didn’t get in the door. Today, this type of assessment has become common. But it’s important for employers to remember that people can learn how to adapt to new situations and cultures.

Current and future demand

Study industry trends, and see what is being projected for a job’s current and future need. Some people may not enjoy trying unfamiliar roles or taking a temporary pay cut to keep themselves employed, but it’s necessary sometimes. I’ve done it, and so have my friends, spouse and other quality professionals I know.

You need to keep active and try new jobs to stay current and relevant in your field. This is especially true if you’re hoping to secure a STEM or supply chain role. You must develop new skills and be willing to relocate or earn a certification, which all require time and resources.

There is no magic pill to solve the real and perceived industry labor issues, but these tips can put anyone in a better position to be hired for many of today’s vacant positions. Look at the labor market and your needs as just that—your needs. Do what’s best for you.

As impossible as it seems, there is a job for everyone. It may not look like it today, tomorrow or next year. But if you leave no stone unturned and knock on enough doors, you’ll get where you need to be.


  1. "STEM Crisis or STEM Surplus? Yes and Yes," BLS.gov, May 2015, http://tinyurl.com/stemcrisisorsurplus.
  2. "The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing—2015 and Beyond," report, The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/manufacturingskillsgap.
  3. Alicia Sasser Modestino, "Middle Skill Workers in Today’s Job Market," The Supply Chain for Middle-Skill Jobs: Education, Training and Certification Pathways, The National Academies, Sept. 3, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/supplychainformiddleskill.
  4. "Employment Situation Summary," news release, BLS.gov, Jan. 8, 2016, www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm.

Teresa Whitacre is a quality engineer and principal at Marketech Systems in Pittsburgh. She has an MBA from California University Foreign Credential Evaluation in Los Angeles. She is an ASQ-certified quality auditor, engineer, Six Sigma Green Belt and manager of quality/organizational excellence. An ASQ fellow, Whitacre is an instructor for ASQ's Pittsburgh Section’s certified quality inspector refresher course and is deputy regional director for ASQ Region 8.

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