STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – has been a national topic of discussion since former President Barack Obama made it a priority during the beginning of his administration. Throughout the years, engineers, scientists, and other innovators across the country have helped secure our nation’s spot as a leader and trailblazer for technology and discovery, but is that position in jeopardy?
To keep the United States as a world leader in science, medicine and engineering, we need to work together to make STEM-related fields available and feasible for all races and genders. Beginning with New Jersey, we can create a movement where our schools provide equal opportunities for all students to get involved and enhance their skills in STEM areas of study.
Over the next 10 years, STEM jobs are projected to grow nine percent in New Jersey – nearly double the growth expected for all other careers. Engineering alone is expected to have more than 500,000 new jobs available in the United States. Computer and IT job growth will also be exponentially higher. With such growth expected, it should come as no surprise that New Jersey’s STEM unemployment rate is only 3.2 percent compared with non-STEM unemployment at 5.7 percent, making it a more stable career option than any other field.
In addition to job stability, STEM careers offer a higher salary right out of college with raises and bonuses only increasing that salary over time. On average, New Jersey workers in STEM careers make a median wage of $44 an hour, which is double the median wage of all other careers in the state. This trend isn’t only native to New Jersey – nationally, STEM workers earned 29 percent more. Couple the high wage with the number of job vacancies and it paints a clear picture of the stability and security of STEM occupations, and with the expected projections, demand for STEM jobs in New Jersey will remain high for at least a decade.
While there have been small strides to increase diversity in the STEM workforce, women and minorities are still severely underrepresented. Even in New Jersey, a state with a predominantly female and minority population, there are huge disparities. Only 20 percent of African American children in fourth and eighth grade are at or above proficient in math and only 14 percent are at or above proficient in science. Hispanic children are slightly higher, with 26 percent and 18.5 percent at or above proficient in math and science, respectively. With such undereducation in grade schools, the minority children in our state are not receiving the same opportunities to pursue STEM-related degrees as the Asian and white male populations.
Fast forward to college-age individuals and only 12 percent of minorities in New Jersey received engineering degrees or certificates in 2015. For women, there were only 665 computer science and 1,079 engineering degrees or certificates awarded. White men, however, received more than three times as many. By increasing the number of girls who get involved in math and science courses, we can close both the wage and gender gap in the STEM workforce.
Even though we have made strides as both a country and a state to increase awareness surrounding STEM education, we are still not where we need to be. There is not only a shortage in the number of students enrolled in high-level STEM classes and degrees but also a shortage in the teachers available to teach these classes. In New Jersey, educators, STEM workers and legislators alike need to work together to make STEM education a priority. Let’s fight the stigma that engineering, computer science and manufacturing are “old boys’ clubs. We need to ensure the girls and minorities in our schools understand that STEM courses and fields are welcoming of everyone – whether they want to have a STEM career or teach the next generation of STEM students.