Why consider a career in a STEM field?
You may have heard the term “STEM” in the news and in conversations about job growth or new opportunities for employment. But what exactly does it mean?
The acronym stands for science, technology, engineering and math, explains Ted Wells, MA, chief strategy officer for STEMconnector, which supports STEM education and workforce development. “STEM has to do with the interconnection among these four different disciplines, each of which involves the idea of gathering data to solve problems,” he notes.
Demand for people who have a STEM education is increasing at a more rapid pace than the U.S. workforce can keep up with, according to a STEM Talent Development Roundtable report . As older workers retire, many companies are experiencing skill shortages. By 2018, the report notes, it’s projected that these companies will need 22 million new college-educated workers.
If you’re wondering whether a STEM career might be a good fit for you, here’s a quick primer to help you decide:
Work is available in a range of industries.
STEM fields include, but are not limited to, accounting, agriculture, energy, education, manufacturing, biotechnology, health care and the automotive industry, as well as the technology sector.
“When you consider the fact that most companies today require workers with information technology skills,” Wells says, you begin to understand that “every field imaginable employs workers with a STEM education.”
He notes that mathematics is the underlying language that drives all STEM fields. Whether it’s using measurements and computations to build a bridge or knowing how to troubleshoot a computer program in a manufacturing facility to correct an error, Wells points out that “for STEM workers — and really all workers — math is the language for solving problems.”
It’s the fastest-growing sector in the economy.
Because of the rapid growth of technology, STEM-related industries have accounted for half of the country’s economic growth in the past 50 years. “Seventy-one percent of all jobs in the new economy are STEM-related,” Wells notes, and the number is increasing.
STEM jobs can be found throughout the United States but usually are in higher demand around dense metropolitan areas, such as San Jose, California, and Washington, D.C.
Pay often is higher than in other fields.
Those in STEM careers can earn more than non-STEM workers with the same level of education. Professionals with four-year degrees in STEM disciplines earn about $500,000 more than non-STEM majors over their lifetimes, according to the roundtable report.
Although women currently are underrepresented in STEM industries, those who hold STEM degrees and go on to work in a STEM field can earn about 30 percent more on average than women working in non-STEM-related jobs.
The right education is key.
If you’re interested in working in STEM, Wells notes that you might consider a degree in information technology or a master’s in education, where you can specialize in teaching STEM subjects.
“This type of coursework can help give [you] the basic skill set and training to get [you] up to speed for the STEM market,” adds Hinrich Eylers, PhD, executive dean of the University of Phoenix® School of Advanced Studies, and an instructor of math courses.
He notes that many STEM positions in the United States require at least an associate degree or specific certifications. In four years, the roundtable report notes, 35 percent of STEM jobs will be available to people who have attained associate degrees and industry-based certifications.