The Blind Leading the Deaf

I just love it when people without appreciable “cyber skills” urge the cultivation of them on the rest of us. This post by M. Anthony Mills at RealClearPolitics is typical of the genre:

Start with a truism: There is a gap between the demand for technical skills in the modern economy and the supply of workers who possess those skills. Employers cannot find enough qualified applicants to fill a growing number of jobs that require such skills. It has been called the “STEM crisis.”

This is true across domains — from science and engineering to finance and health care — in part because information technology is beginning to infuse all aspects of the economy. One of those domains is cybersecurity.

Which brings us to a second truism: Cybersecurity is among the major challenges facing today’s public and private sectors, and one that will only grow as our economy becomes ever more digital. It is already daunting, given the ubiquitous data-sharing that defines our social-media age. Nearly every person has a computer in his or her pocket — often linked up to the cloud and various social media — making just about every employee a potential cyber target. Cybersecurity is no longer a specialized issue of concern to one’s IT department, but something that impacts nearly everyone. Consider that Facebook has over 2 billion users worldwide.

The problem with his truisms is that they aren’t true. If there were a STEM crisis, you’d expect salaries in science, technology, engineering, and math to be rising. Except in biosciences which is subsidized ferociously by government at all levels, they aren’t. What’s actually happening is that businesses, naturally enough, want to pay as little as possible for workers with the skills they want, so they complain that there are no workers available as a justification for importing foreign workers, whom they’ll pay less because they can get away with it.

Health care’s a different story. If the number of people in health care is inadequate, it’s because it’s effectively capped.

The reason for the highly publicized security breaches at big companies and the government, e.g. Equifax, is not technical. It’s managerial. There have been management decisions that it’s not worth paying for and enforcing security so the culture of security necessary to preserve it never comes about.

Here’s a sad reality about national cybersecurity. It’s asymmetrical warfare. The advantage is with the attacker. We can digitally cut ourselves off from the rest of the world. We can attack potential cyberadversaries (more malicious traffic comes from China than everywhere else added together; much of the balance comes from Eastern Europe). We can’t really defend ourselves. There are some things we can do to mitigate the risks but we don’t even do those. That’s not a technological problem. It’s a management and political one.

6 comments… add one
  • Bob Sykes Link

    I taught civil engineering at the undergraduate and geaduate levels for 37 years. A significant fraction of all BS enginners, and up to half of all BSCE holders, never practice engineering. Many go into technical sales, others to the military, others to graduate, medical or law school. Some disappear. Thanks to ABET, our accrediting agency, the education of all engineers is quite good. Engineering freshmen are a intellectually elite group at every school, and their abilities and training are transferable to many careers.

    Graduate engineering students are majority foreign nationals (and most of them are Chinese), and even our engineering faculty are mostly foreign nationals.

    The point is that there is substantial overproduction of engineering students all degree levels.

    Betond that is hbd. Only about 5 to 10% of all college freshmen have the intellectual ability or work ethic to successfully pursue a degree in engineering. A the STEM propaganda is just that, lies on top of lies.

  • PD Shaw Link

    @Bob Skyes, the people behind the ACT test have studied college outcomes for students who pursue STEM courses and now are reporting with the results whether the test-taker is ready for a college degree in a STEM field. Apparently, about 20% of test-takers are STEM ready.

    I’ve been meaning to look into this more, but the ACT scores are on a normal distribution, but because test-takers are more likely to score higher, I assume the actual population ready for STEM is less than 20%.

    ACT scores correlate with IQ, just not as much as SAT scores. (77% versus 88%)

    Another issue is that “STEM courses” appears to be a narrow field of study. It may be that there is a demand for higher math and scientific reasoning than 20 years ago, but not so much for the more demanding courses of study.

  • PD:

    When you factor in work ethic Bob may be right.

  • Guarneri Link

    Interesting observations.

    “A significant fraction of all BS enginners……… never practice engineering.” Absolutely true, because…….

    “their abilities and training are transferable to many careers.”

    “Another issue is that “STEM courses” appears to be a narrow field of study.”

    I guess it’s relative, but that is fairly true. Mechanical engineering may have the broadest application. However, it’s the way engineers are taught to define and analyze issues that has broad applicability.

    It’s just one mans personal experience, but I actually found the talent pool to be stronger at my business school than either of the engineering schools I attended.

    I would note that it’s almost always been true that no matter the rigorousness of technical fields, those who can generate large profits, are responsible for large numbers of people or control large amounts of capital will command higher pay.

  • PD Shaw Link

    @ Dave; I don’t know that I was disagreeing with Bob, just musing on ACT scores. But it does seem like IQ underlies the whole thing, even though ACT is framing STEM-readiness as an aptitude.

    @ Guarneri; I was more narrowly discussing the ACT reporting on STEM – readiness. My impression is that there is a public push to encourage interest in more STEM jobs, some of which might be classified as “some math,” while the ACT is analyzing narrower math and science majors.

  • Andy Link

    I’m one of those failed STEM students. I was pretty bright and could take tests well, so high school was pretty easy for the most part. I scored a 31 on the ACT and got accepted to several Universities and decided on the University of Colorado (Boulder) as a Physics major. That lasted a year. I had the brains but not the passion or the work ethic (I was lazy). I could no longer skate by and I actually had to do all the homework to learn.

    After a few years of trying to figure out what I wanted to study, I eventually just dropped out and joined the Navy – the second best decision of my life (after proposing to my wife).

    Speaking of my wife, she has a doctorate in nuclear engineering, all paid for by the US Air Force. She didn’t do much research or practical engineering – her main jobs were leading and managing scientists, and serving as a subject matter expert on foreign nuclear programs, two things she is very good at and enjoys.

    I tend to agree that the number of people who can really succeed in STEM fields is probably low as it requires several factors. The STEM propaganda is still useful though – at least for those at a young age – because I think it exposes them to a set of careers that are outside their zone of experience.

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