Every day in the United States, people go to work. And everyday, more and more of that work – whether it is white-collar, blue-collar, or no-collar – requires that the Americans performing it possess an expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Over the next decade, STEM-related job opportunities in the U.S. are expected to increase by nearly 17 percent, according to the non-profit coalition STEM Advantage. In a country with an unemployment rate that remains over seven percent, increasing the number of workers with STEM skills and education could provide a real boost, putting more Americans back to work in both the public and private sectors, increasing incomes and strengthening the American economy.
STEM As Stimulus
Of the approximately 136 million jobs currently filled in America, a growing number of them – 14.9 million as of 2012, with 20.6% growth projected through 2018 – require STEM education. But these jobs don’t belong exclusively to PhDs with white coats in laboratories. In fact, jobs that require workers to possess technical engineering skills, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree –occupations such as mechanics, carpenters and electricians – are available to Americans with technical training, whether they are college-educated or not.
With such a wide application of these technical skills, the nationwide job market for STEM skills provides fertile terrain for job applicants of all backgrounds. The skills necessary to take advantage of these available jobs are standardized across the country, and “do not differ from state to state,” according to Michael Cohen, President of Achieve – an independent, bipartisan, non-profit organization that advises states on a variety of academic matters.
Serving Through STEM
But STEM skills aren’t limited to the private sector, with opportunities for public service jobs available in every metropolitan area across the country.
In a recent interview, Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, explained that the Corps – which employs more than 36,000 civilian employees worldwide – needs more STEM-skilled workers. The United States “must ensure there is a pipeline of students engaged in STEM and prepared for careers in engineering, the natural sciences, and research and development,” Cmdr. Bostick said.
Efforts to Expand Education Are Working
Meanwhile, the promotion of STEM subjects in classrooms from preschool to universities is already showing positive results. The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that the amount of low-income fourth graders who were performing at or above basic levels in math grew by 27 percent in the 10 years between 2000 and 2009. Organizations, such as Project Lead The Way, Techbridge, and Achieve, are part of a national movement to encourage STEM education by establishing new curriculums, working closely to support girls and minority students, and setting new standards of achievement.
“There is lots of interest in figuring out how to establish rigorous STEM curricular pathways that will start when students are in high school and provide them an engaging pathway,” Cohen said, adding that the adoption of such changes across the country is “actually happening a bit faster than we anticipated it might.”
Bolstering Paychecks At Home
American workers who possess and utilize STEM skills also make more money. Georgetown University researchers found that 8 of the top 10 college majors in terms of income were in STEM fields such as petroleum, aerospace, chemical and mechanical engineering. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration has discovered that employees in STEM jobs consistently earn a wage premium of up to 26 percent more than workers in non-STEM positions, a trend that has been steady over time.
Ensuring Broad Economic Strength
Beyond STEM’s impact on individuals, researchers from Harvard University discovered something that could significantly alter the future of the American economy. In a 2011 study, they found that by enhancing American students’ proficiency in mathematics to the levels achieved in countries like Canada and South Korea, the United States could increase annual national income projections by 75 trillion dollars over the next 80 years.
The potential for such growth is leading states to invest heavily in STEM education initiatives. For example, the state of Connecticut recently invested $1.8 billion in new and updated facilities at its state university in order to ensure it could meet the projected needs of the next generation of STEM students.
“There is very clearly an understanding in state government about the importance of STEM education,” Cohen said. “They all understand the very tight connection between the education level of the workforce and economic growth and development.”
STEM: How to Educate for America's Future Article Series