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STEM degree offers positives, even if career path does not lead to engineering

-July 25, 2011

The US Department of Commerce recently released a report on STEM (science, technology, engineer, and math) employment that stated some interesting facts.

  • In 2010, there were 7.6 million STEM workers in the United States, representing about 1 in 18 workers.
  • STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17% from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8% growth for non-STEM occupations.
  • STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26% more than their non-STEM counterparts.
  • More than two-thirds of STEM workers have at least a college degree, compared to less than one-third of non-STEM workers.
  • STEM degree holders enjoy higher earnings, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations.

All of these points are valuable when it comes to American competitiveness, individual earning power, and maintaining employment in what has in recent years proven to be a less than reliable career environment. But it’s that last point that made me take notice of this report, titled “STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future.”

High school guidance counselors often point seniors toward business degrees when they lack direction. Such degrees have a certain value and are often a plus on entry-level resumes because, let’s be honest, in part they signal that the candidate understands the need to drive revenue. But a study in STEM says — or should say — to HR that the candidate is analytical, can solve problems, is highly intelligent and determined, and applies that intelligence and determination to their work. Truth be told, getting a STEM degree is hard work, largely focused on a specific area, and that scares some college entrants off.

Yet, according to the report, STEM degrees open the door to many career opportunities. Almost two-thirds of the 9.3 million workers with a STEM undergraduate degree work in a non-STEM job, such as educators, managers, and health care professionals, the Department of Commerce reports (see table).

Employment of workers age 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree or higher, by STEM occupation and STEM undergraduate degree, 2009

Employment of workers age 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree or higher, by STEM occupation and STEM undergraduate degree, 2009

We all know that jobs are being outsourced, that the US unemployment rate continues at startlingly high percentages, and that those who have maintained employment over the last three years are working harder than ever to make up for the responsibilities of laid-off former coworkers. But a look at this report, as well as at the EE Times Engineers’ Career Guide and Salary Survey, reminds us that engineer compensation packages are improving and that, as bad as it’s been for engineer careers these past few years, it’s been worse in other disciplines.

What’s your degree in? Given the chance to do it all over again, would you study STEM? Are you encouraging the next generation to study STEM and enter a STEM career? Voice your opinions below and be sure to check out Innovation Generation, one of the efforts EDN and EE Times is making to help inspire the next generation of engineers.

Meanwhile, if you are a young gun in STEM, I want to hear from you. Contact me at suzanne.deffree@ubm.com if you are interested in chatting about your career plans and why you entered STEM.

Update on networking event:

Engineering the next generation: ESC Boston mentor meet-up
Wednesday, September 28, 3:30-5pm
Hynes Convention Center, room 109
Register for the networking event here.
More information on ESC Boston can be found here.

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