10-Year Occupational Projections for STEM Jobs

by Anna Johnson

September 18, 2018

Twenty-two percent of jobs in Oregon fall into the STEM category (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). You can 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 and the STEM Tool on QualityInfo.org use 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 the 811 occupations in Oregon, 286 are 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 a STEM-related education.

Education and STEM

Want a STEM job? If so, attaining a postsecondary education may improve your chances. Most STEM jobs require education and training to learn the skills and knowledge for the job. The typical entry-level education for almost three-quarters (71.3%) of STEM job openings is postsecondary training or higher. Nearly half (47.3%) of STEM job openings require a bachelor’s degree.

Looking at all projected job openings in Oregon, 76 percent of openings that require a doctoral or professional degree are STEM jobs. Forty-nine percent of openings that require a bachelor’s degree and 60 percent that require an associate’s degree are STEM jobs.

Physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, and physical therapists lead the way among the doctoral or professional degree STEM jobs. At the master’s degree level, nurse practitioners and postsecondary teachers account for the greatest number of STEM jobs. At the bachelor’s degree level, registered nurses, accountants and auditors, and business operations specialists dominate STEM jobs. Construction managers, engineering technicians, and dental hygienists 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 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, and construction occupations dominate the expected job openings during the next decade among STEM jobs, but trained workers will be in demand in all areas.

More than 400,000 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 2017 to 2027. The growth rate for STEM jobs during this period is 15 percent, which is higher than the growth rate for all occupations of 12 percent. Only 19 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 98 STEM occupations are high wage, high skill, and high demand. 
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 257 of the 286 STEM occupations analyzed for this article. Of these 257 STEM occupations, 235 occupations have a higher median wage than Oregon’s median wage for all occupations ($19.09 per hour) in 2018.

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 also tend to pay well, and the demand is high due to growth as well as the need to replace retiring workers.


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