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Employment trajectories of STEM graduates

Researchers: Professor Emma Smith | Dr Patrick White

Project overview

This study aims to contribute to the debate on whether there is a deficit, or a surplus, in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills.

There is considerable political and industry pressure to increase the number of scientists in the UK and other developed countries. Some claim that the current supply of STEM workers is not enough to ensure national economic prosperity, and many initiatives have been funded to address this perceived problem. However, others argue that the supply of STEM skills is more than enough to meet demand and that the picture is much healthier than is often suggested. Indeed, it has been argued that many highly qualified STEM graduates struggle to find appropriate employment and either work in non-STEM fields, are ‘underemployed’ in STEM occupations, or are unemployed.

This project will provide evidence on the nature of STEM career trajectories and their relationship to the wider labour market. The researchers will use data from the UK’s largest birth cohort studies to provide empirical evidence on the career paths of STEM graduates and other highly skilled STEM workers from the early 1980s to the present day. They will examine these trajectories to look for evidence of the demand for particular skills and knowledge, and for any skills shortages or surpluses. They will also identify the factors most closely associated with success in the STEM labour market. At each stage findings will be contrasted with those for non-STEM graduates, including those working in the STEM sector.

Latest on this project


  • Professor Emma Smith
    University of Leicester
  • Dr Patrick White
    University of Leicester

  • Cheryl Lloyd
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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