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STEM professionals value career security over a pay rise

In today’s economic climate, STEM professionals are putting job security first. Over half of our ‘How the STEM World Evolves’ respondents state that keeping their job or contract is more important than earning more money.

Fast-forward to today and the landscape has changed. Not only is the economy different, but labour market shifts and megatrends are revolutionising the working world and influencing the needs of the workforce. So, what’s most important for STEM professionals now? Here's what over 2,300 candidates had to say in our study ‘How the STEM World Evolves’.


think it's more important that they keep their job than receive a pay rise, while just 16% disagree


of STEM professionals are unlikely to look for a new role in the next 12 months with 30% unsure

Job security is fundamental

On the surface, it appears STEM professionals still believe money is the most important factor when choosing a role (Figure 1). But when asked to choose between job security and earning more, over half (53%) of How the STEM World Evolves survey respondents chose job security and only one in eight (16%) disagreed (Figure 2). Job security is becoming increasingly important for STEM professionals and is more important for people in their current roles. This trend is synonymous among permanently employed professionals and contractors.


Despite the skills gap, the resilience of STEM jobs even during recessions and the ever-increasing need for STEM workers, sought-after professionals still feel unease in their careers. The change in the economic climate and the subsequent pressure it's placing on the STEM workforce is taking effect, with one respondent in the Netherlands stating,

“The current financial climate is causing people to be laid off. My own job is not at stake, but I do experience extra work pressure because of this.”

And another in the US said,

"I am worried that I may get layed-off because the economy is unstable currently and many other major companies are mass laying off employees."

This coupled with the rapid pace of technological innovation is creating concern around security and the STEM jobs market, with a Japan-based permanent employee expressing AI-driven concerns: “Because of [AI], there is a fear that the amount of work that is unique to Japan will decrease significantly, and that the number of job openings will also decrease accordingly.” More on AI and automation’s impact on STEM professionals can be read later.

Headshot of Timo Lehne - CEO, SThree
"The global trends of digitalisation, decarbonisation, and research-led healthcare certainly create opportunities for STEM specialists. However, when combined with demographic shifts, new working models, and economic changes, it puts a different kind of pressure on the workforce. This could lead to employees who are fearful of being replaced in their jobs." Timo Lehne, CEO, SThree


Security is important even to contractors

Both permanent STEM employees and contractors place high importance on pay and security - although contractors value security slightly more than pay (Figure 3). This is unexpected given the level of risk versus reward involved with contracting – a trade-off that contractors consciously opt into. But the desire for security suggests that in the face of economic uncertainty, there is a growing sense of unease within the contractor market.

Headshot of Timo Lehne - CEO, SThree
"STEM skills are crucial to help build the future we all want, so while things may feel a bit tougher, we are still seeing a continuous demand for professionals with STEM skills." Timo Lehne, CEO, SThree


The future feels less secure

Although 78% of respondents are satisfied with their current job or contract security (Figure 1), when we look to the future a different picture is being painted. How the STEM World Evolves finds 43% of STEM professionals are unlikely to look for a new role in the next 12 months and 30% were unsure (Figure 4), highlighting the lack of confidence in the future job market.


What is surprising, however, is over 40% of contractors neither agree nor disagree that they will be likely to look for another contract in the next 12 months (Figure 4). Contracts typically last up to 12-months, so the expected response is that contractors would be the most likely to look for a new role compared to those in permanent positions, which begs the question: why are so many unsure? Contractors feel less confidence in finding their next contract (Figure 5), as one US-based professional shares:

“I have recently had trouble obtaining contracts, and it is hard to remain optimistic that the situation will change.”

So, if securing the next contract is becoming more uncertain, could these professionals be re-evaluating their careers based on the macro-environment? One respondent in Germany sheds some light:

“I got a permanent position and therefore less stress in relation to the economic situation.”

It’s clear an increasing level of importance is being placed on security, with some contractors going perm just for this benefit. The weight of global economic conditions is clouding the job security felt among contractors, influencing their future career drivers and needs.


The feelings vary depending on where you live

Future job or contract insecurity differs between regions, illustrated by varying intentions to look for a new role over the next 12 months (Figure 6). Netherlands- and Germany-based respondents feel most secure in their current role as they are very unlikely to move in the next 12 months. Those who are looking to move are also the most confident in their ability to find their next job or contract compared with respondents from other countries. One permanent employee in Germany said, “The job market [in Germany] is very good and I want to see if I can find something better,” while a Netherlands-based permanent employee said, “I already earn very well at my current job and I like my current job.”

"The Dutch talent market is one that nurtures skills that are in high demand. With a robust job market and a thriving tech industry, STEM professionals have good reason to be confident in their career prospects." Margot van Soest, Managing Director The Netherlands & Spain, SThree

Respondents in the UK and US were more likely to look for a new role, but are not confident in their future search, with almost four in ten agreeing that they would find it difficult. Japan respondents were very unlikely to look for a role and felt the least confident in searching for a new role, with more than half of respondents agreeing that it would be difficult.


The lack of motivation to move and the difficulty of finding their next role could be explained by cultural differences in Japan, where it’s not uncommon for someone to have ‘a career for life’, while the UK and US are more fluid in their approach to work. However, there is a clear difference between these three countries when compared with respondents from The Netherlands and Germany, who are the most confident about the current state of their labour market and the opportunities it presents.


The macro-economic environment is impacting the confidence of STEM talent. How the STEM World Evolves finds that professionals currently feel reserved and cautious as they value their job or contract security over earning more money. The market slow-down is being felt by these in-demand specialists, who’ve remained relatively protected up till now. Only now are seeing how important security is for STEM professionals, particularly for those in contract roles.

When looking to the future, and the security of jobs and contracts, there is an undercurrent of nervousness running through many of the responses.

Jelte Hacquebord Small 2
"While it’s natural for candidates to question the security of their role in tougher economic situations, it’s employers who make the difficult decisions. As an employer, you must evaluate your operations, decide which skills are crucial to your business, and then work backwards. It’s not easy or simple but often communication is the key to ensuring decisions and circumstances are understood without too much backlash." Jelte Hacquebord, Senior Managing Director & Executive Board Member, SThree

Dive deeper into How the STEM World Evolves

Uncover how the STEM world is changing in our new study How the STEM World Evolves! Discover:

  • How important security is to STEM professionals 
  • What STEM professionals want from their role
  • How purpose is influencing careers
  • How attitudes to wellbeing are evolving
  • What impact the ageing population will have on employees
  • Whether attitudes to AI and Automation are changing
Learn more

Discover the other sections in our study

STEM professionals want more from their roles than employers are offering

STEM professionals want more from their roles than employers are offering

Apart from attractive salary rates and benefits, candidates continue to want flexibility. But how that looks has changed.

Purpose is the key driver in STEM professionals’ careers

Purpose is the key driver in STEM professionals’ careers

Purpose at work has become more important, and intrinsic personal purpose far outweighs organisational extrinsic purpose.

Over a third of STEM professionals are worried about losing their jobs to AI and automation

Over a third of STEM professionals are worried about losing their jobs to AI and automation

How can businesses help STEM professionals create a role-relevant partnership with AI, rather than be automated out of a job?

Concerns over wellbeing rising among STEM professionals

Concerns over wellbeing rising among STEM professionals

An increasing sense of pressure has caused a rise in specialists worrying about wellbeing in the past 12 months. What are the solutions?

Employers are focusing on the wrong demographic to get the most from the ageing workforce

Employers are focusing on the wrong demographic to get the most from the ageing workforce

A generational phenomenon, underpinned by increased life expectancy and decreasing birth rates, is sweeping across global markets.

Summary of findings

Summary of findings

Dive into the attitudes and expectations of STEM professionals as they try and make sense of our rapidly changing working environment.

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