Prepared, diverse workforce is needed for STEM careers

By Tommie Yvette Turner

There is a surplus of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs and not enough workers.

These careers are not in the distant future, written only in science fiction books or for only certain populations. These jobs are also important for the United States to remain globally competitive with foreign countries.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – defined as new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological world – is transforming society. It is a very exciting time for diverse students and communities to develop their knowledge and skills to be employable for STEM careers.

A prepared and diverse workforce is needed to address complex societal challenges such as climate change, food insecurity, cybersecurity, water quality, energy efficiency, health care and other pressing issues that impact humanity. The domestic economy is growing, innovative discoveries are changing lives and skilled workers are in demand by employers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there were nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs in May 2015 representing 6.2 percent of the U.S. employment. Of these jobs, 45 percent of them consisted of computer occupations and 19 percent were in engineering. It is projected that between 2014 and 2024, mathematical science occupations groups (statisticians and mathematicians) will grow at 28.2 percent, and engineering occupations are projected to add 65,000 new jobs. Also, between 2014 and 2024 employment in computer occupations are projected to increase by 12.5 percent, resulting in nearly half a million new jobs.

A talented STEM workforce is needed in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas, and workers are paid accordingly.

According to a May 2018 Economics Daily report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, STEM occupations accounted for 6.3 percent of employment nationally (530,000 jobs). They made up 6.6 percent of jobs in metropolitan areas and 3.2 percent in nonmetropolitan areas. The annual mean wage for STEM occupations was $93,070 nationally, with the figure at $71,720 in nonmetropolitan areas and $94,160 in metropolitan areas.

Looking at the impact of STEM careers here in St. Louis has also spurred growth and professional career opportunities for a prepared workforce.

A person living in St. Louis, employable and working in a STEM career, can change their personal economic employment trajectory.

According to the 2014 State of the St. Louis STEM Workforce Report from St. Louis Community College, STEM jobs in St. Louis are expected to grow by 12.4 percent over a 10-year period (from 2012 to 2022) compared with 9.2 percent for non-STEM jobs. Also, the average earnings of a STEM worker were 80 percent higher than a non-STEM worker ($79,290 compared with $44,294).

However, the report included 2013 data that showed a 27.8 percent gap between job demand and worker supply. In St. Louis, there were 23,000 job ads in science and technology but only 2,044 jobseekers looking for jobs in those areas. Once again, the economic reality of supply of jobs and the demand for workers is evident. In the 2018 State of St. Louis Workforce report from St. Louis Community College, Information Technology: Technology- Intensive Services employed more than 140,000 workers in the region with average wages exceeding $90,000. However, 61 percent of Information Technology (IT) firms in the region reported a shortage of skilled applicants.

There are lucrative STEM jobs available in the metro St. Louis region, and prepared, diverse workers are needed to fill the positions.

The adage “don’t leave money on the table” is true. A professional career in STEM leads to a transformative, exciting and economically profitable future.

– Tommie Yvette Turner is the director of the Institute for Science and Mathematics at Harris-Stowe State University.

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