Hidden STEM Economy? STEM For All

When we think of STEM, we tend to think of highly professional white collar jobs that require copious amounts of education. In reality, STEM jobs encompass so much more than the Dilbert-like stereotypes much of the world retains about these fields. The Brookings Report: Hidden STEM Economy (Read the report here) released in June 2013 sheds light on a hidden STEM economy, and the demand for STEM jobs that in many cases only require a certificate or two year degree. What is unique about this report is it’s contrast to historic reports by key agencies that continue to perpetuate an image of STEM jobs as almost elitist and unattainable by much of the population. What is important for us to note is that if we continue to only encourage students who are high-achieving in math and science, we will most certainly be sacrificing potential talent to fill the entire gamut of STEM jobs that are on the horizon.

Below you will find snippets and quotes from the full report.

Today, there are two STEM economies 

The professional STEM economy of today is closely linked to graduate school education, maintains close links with research universities, but functions mostly in the corporate sector. It plays a vital function in keeping American businesses on the cutting edge of technological development and deployment. Its workers are generally compensated extremely well.

The second STEM economy draws from high schools, workshops, vocational schools, and community colleges. These workers today are less likely to be directly involved in invention, but they are critical to the implementation of new ideas, and advise researchers on feasibility of design options, cost estimates, and other practical aspects of technological development. Skilled technicians produce, install, and repair the products and production machines patented by professional researchers, allowing firms to reach their markets, reduce product defects, create process innovations, and enhance productivity. These technicians also develop and maintain the nation’s energy supply, electrical grid, and infrastructure.

(Text copied from Page 3 of the report)

Key Findings

A. As of 2011, 26 million U.S. jobs—20 percent of all jobs—require a high level of knowledge in any one STEM field.

Not all workers need formal college-level skills, but they do need to master a specific body of knowledge. Entry-level occupations in factories no longer pay high wages, but occupations requiring education, experience, or training in STEM fields do, even for those requiring less than four years of postsecondary education. (Pg 7)

B. Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree, and these jobs pay $53,000 on average—a wage 10 percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements (pg 7)

Classifying STEM jobs based on knowledge requirements, however, shows that 30 percent of today’s high-STEM jobs are actually blue-collar positions (Table 1). As defined here, blue-collar occupations include installation, maintenance, and repair, construction, production, protective services, transportation, farming, forestry, and fishing, building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, healthcare support, personal care, and food preparation.(Pg 7)

C. STEM jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree are highly clustered in certain metropolitan areas, while sub-bachelor’s STEM jobs are prevalent in every large metropolitan area. (pg 12)

Some Conclusions

Some may assume the concept of STEM is a fleeting fad for policymakers, but there are compelling reasons to believe that STEM-related employment is a fundamental aspect of modern economies and that the prominence of STEM jobs will continue to grow as nations industrialize, urbanize, and specialize their way to higher standards of living and more complex forms of production and exchange. (pp 5-6)

The [...] discussion makes it clear that the excessively professional definition of STEM jobs has led to missed opportunities to identify and support valuable training and career development at the federal level and weakened coordination between workforce development and education at the state and local levels. (pg 22)

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