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Coast to coast, STEM jobs take longest to fill

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs take more than twice as long to fill as other openings, according to a new Brookings Institution study that provides the most detailed evidence yet of a skills gap that's slowing payroll growth.

Even more surprising, a high school graduate with a STEM background is in higher demand than a college grad without such skills, the report says. STEM jobs that require only a high school or associate's degree are advertised for 40 days on average vs. 37 days for jobs demanding a bachelor's degree only.

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Science and technology students take part in a robotics competition.
Jonathan Wiggs | The Boston Globe | Getty Images
Science and technology students take part in a robotics competition.

The study tallied every job opening advertised by companies on their websites — a total 52,000 companies — in the first quarter of 2013.

Some economists have questioned the popular belief that a shortage of job candidates with science and math skills is keeping the 6.3% unemployment rate from falling more rapidly, citing weak wage growth for computer-and engineering positions. But Jonathan Rothwell, author of the Brookings study, says it can take several years for wages to adjust to market conditions.

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According to his study, health care practitioners and technical occupations — a category that includes doctors, nurses and radiologists — were the toughest to fill, with ads advertised an average 47 days. Architectural and engineering positions followed, at 41 days, and computer and math jobs, 39 days.

Even installation, maintenance and repair jobs — including auto mechanics and air-conditioning technicians, which require some training but not higher education — were advertised an average 33 days, the same as legal occupations.

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At the other end of the spectrum, office and administrative support, manufacturing and buildings and grounds openings took the least amount of time to fill — 24 to 28 days.

The study also highlights sharp variations among regions. Among the 100 largest metro areas, San Jose and San Francisco, both located near tech hotbed Silicon Valley, were among the five areas with the toughest-to-fill positions. Openings were advertised an average 54 and 50 days, respectively, and many of the openings require at least a bachelor's degree. Skills requested by San Jose employers pay the most in the U.S. on average — $68,000.

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In other areas, STEM openings that don't require a college degree were hard to fill. Those include midlevel health care jobs in Stockton, Calif., and installation, maintenance and repair slots in Detroit, San Diego, Seattle and Durham, N.C., which were advertised 43 to 51 days. By contrast, such installation jobs took less than half as much time to fill in Denver and Hartford, Conn.

Overall, advertised jobs were easiest to fill in Minneapolis, Colorado Springs, Toledo, Ohio, and Milwaukee. Ads in those regions were posted an average of 21 or 22 days.

By Paul Davidson, USA Today

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