About 20 percent of all American jobs are now in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, with half of those open to workers who don't have a four-year college degree, according to a new analysis by the Brookings Institution.
Those jobs constitute a "hidden STEM economy," the Washington, D.C.-based think tank says, because they are "prevalent in every large metropolitan area," but many people believe at least a bachelor's degree is necessary to work in careers that require STEM skills. Many of these so-called "blue-collar" stem jobs are in construction, installation, manufacturing and health care. They include registered nurses, mechanics, carpenters and electricians.
"Of the $4.3 billion spent annually by the federal government on STEM education and training, only one-fifth goes towards supporting sub-bachelor's level training, while twice as much supports bachelor's or higher level-STEM careers," the report says. "The vast majority of National Science Foundation spending ignores community colleges. In fact, STEM knowledge offers attractive wage and job opportunities to many workers with a post-secondary certificate or associate's degree."
STEM jobs that don't require a four-year degree pay about $53,000 on average, about 10 percent higher than non-STEM jobs available to people with similar education backgrounds.
"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 report says. "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."
Of the country's 200 largest metropolitan areas, Silicon Valley's economy most relies on STEM workers, with a third of all employees in San Jose working in STEM jobs. Tech hubs such as San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Denver, Austin, Houston, Raleigh (a banking hub) and Hartford, Conn., are also STEM hotbeds, according to the report.
But STEM jobs make up a high percentage of jobs in smaller metro areas such as Baton Rouge, La., Birmingham, Ala., Wichita, Kansas and Palm Bay, Fla., which the think tank says have among the "largest share of STEM jobs in fields that do not require four-year college degrees."
In recent years, politicians have said the United States education system has to do a better job of teaching STEM subjects in order to close the so-called "skills gap" where tech companies have openings for highly-paid computer engineers and programmers but there is a shortage of workers with the skills necessary to fill them. President Barack Obama has set a goal of training 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next decade to help close that gap.
U.S. News will discuss STEM issues facing the country at next week's STEM Solutions National Conference in Austin.