10-Year Occupational Projections for STEM Jobs

by Felicia Bechtoldt

October 25, 2016

More than one out of five jobs in Oregon fall into the STEM category (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). View the relationship between employment and wages of STEM occupations in the chart-based STEM Employment and Wage Tool.

Chances are, you have heard the term STEM, but exactly what is a STEM job? Several definitions exist. While all are focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, some include health care jobs and even jobs related to the arts.
This article uses the Brookings Institute's definition of a STEM occupation. According to the Brookings Institute, a STEM occupation requires a high level of knowledge in one or more core STEM fields. The selection of STEM occupations is based on information from the U.S. Department of Labor's O*NET (Occupational Information Network Data Collection Program). O*NET collects detailed surveys of workers in every occupation. These surveys gather data that assess the knowledge level required to perform the workers' current job. Based on the surveys' responses, O*NET assigns a knowledge score for each occupation. The Brookings Institute uses the knowledge scores to identify STEM occupations. Out of 805 occupations in Oregon, there are 286 STEM occupations according to the think tank's definition.

STEM is not a passing fad. This acronym has been, and will be, around for a long time. Why? Because it represents a group of occupations that many see as key to our economic well-being. You can read about STEM on Wikipedia, and on social media. There are STEM blogs, newsletters, and Twitter accounts, programs, coalitions, and initiatives, all geared toward educating the world about STEM, and educating individuals for STEM careers. There is no doubt, current and future demand exists for people with STEM-related education.

Education and STEM

Want a STEM job? If so, attaining a postsecondary education will improve your chances of getting a STEM job. Most STEM jobs require education and training to learn the skills and knowledge for the job. The typical entry-level education for more than three-quarters of STEM job openings is postsecondary training or higher. Nearly half of STEM job openings require a bachelor's degree.
Looking at all projected job openings in Oregon, 82 percent that require a doctoral or professional degree are STEM jobs, 55 percent that require a bachelor's degree and 60 percent that require an associate's degree are STEM jobs.

Physicians, surgeons, physical therapists, and pharmacists lead the way among the doctoral or professional degree STEM jobs. At the master's degree level, health care practitioners and postsecondary teachers account for the greatest number of STEM jobs. At the bachelor's degree level, registered nurses, engineers, computer, business and financial specialists dominate STEM jobs. Construction managers, health care, life, physical, social science, and engineering technicians lead the way among the associate degree jobs.  

Will We Have Enough?

One reason you may have heard the term STEM is due to the ongoing discussion and concern among some STEM communities about whether there will be enough graduates with STEM skills to meet the demand. Education planners and policy makers are working to assure an adequate supply of workers is available to meet the need – not an easy task given the various factors that impact both supply and demand.

Oregon's STEM Investment Council was established and authorized by House Bill 2636 in 2012 and reports to the Chief Education Officer. The purpose of the Council is to assist the state's Chief Education Officer as they develop and oversee efforts to meet the following educational goals by 2025:

  • Double the percentage of students in 4th and 8th grades who are proficient or advanced in mathematics and science, as determined using a nationally representative assessment of students' knowledge in mathematics and science.
  • Double the number of students who earn a postsecondary degree requiring proficiency in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.
  • These efforts will help build a foundation of awareness and understanding that students can carry with them throughout their education and into their careers. 
Employment and Wages

Health care practitioners and technicians, computer and management occupations dominate the expected job openings during the next decade among STEM jobs, but that should not reduce the need for trained workers in all areas.
More than 150,000 job openings due to both growth in the occupation and the need to replace workers who leave the occupation (for retirement, or move to another type of work, for example) are expected from 2014 to 2024. The growth rate for STEM jobs during this period is 16 percent, which is higher than the growth rate for all occupations of 13.9 percent. Only 13 out of 286 STEM occupations are expected to decline during the decade.

The Oregon Employment Department categorizes occupations as high demand (occupations with more than the median number of openings), high wage (those paying more than the median wage) and high skill (generally occupations with postsecondary training or higher as a typical level to enter the occupation).

Most STEM occupations are high wage or high skill, and nearly half are high-demand occupations. A total of 109 STEM occupations are high wage, high skill and high demand. 
According to the Conference Board's Help Wanted OnLine data, there were 77,422 online job ads in Oregon in October 2016. STEM job ads made up 31 percent of the online job ads. STEM occupations with large numbers of online job ads included registered nurses, applications software developers, computer user support specialists, accountants, auditors, web developers and physical therapists.

While there is an investment of time and money in education for most STEM career fields, STEM occupations generally pay well.  

The Oregon Employment Department has wage data available for 262 of the 286 STEM occupations analyzed for this article. Of these 262 STEM occupations, 238 occupations have a higher median wage than Oregon's median wage for all occupations ($18.15 per hour) in 2016.

Summary

STEM jobs are here to stay. And they play a vital role in the Oregon economy today and will continue to be important into the future. While STEM jobs tend to require higher levels of education, they tend to pay well and demand is high due to growth as well as the need to replace retiring workers. 

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