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Survey: STEM education doesn't always equal STEM job

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It's been commonly reported that the United States needs more students and workers in STEM-related fields — science, technology, engineering and math — to maintain economic growth.

But the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday that it may be time to reconsider the notion now that 74 percent of people who have a bachelor’s degree in a STEM-related field are not working in their desired professions.

According to the 2012 American Community Survey, only 50 percent of engineering, computer, math and statistics majors; 26 percent of physical science majors; 15 percent of biology, environmental studies or agriculture majors; 10 percent of psychology majors; and 7 percent of social science majors in the U.S. found jobs in their chosen fields.

That means that even though unemployment among graduates with STEM degrees is considerably lower than the broader U.S. workforce — 3.6 percent vs 6.1 percent — those graduates are not putting their specialized education to proper use. 

And according to a 2013 article written by Hal Salzman, professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, twice as many STEM students currently graduate every year as are able to find jobs in their field.

“Engineering has the highest rate at which graduates move into STEM occupations, but even here the supply is over 50 percent higher than the demand,” Salzman states in the article. “Information technology — the industry most vocal about its inability to find enough workers — hires only two-thirds of each year’s graduating class of bachelor’s degree computer scientists.”

But according to the New Jersey 2014 STEM Report card, published as part of the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America’s State Innovation Vital Signs series, 269,000 STEM-related jobs will be available in 2018, and during the next decade, the overall U.S. demand for scientists and engineers is expected to increase at four times the rate for all other occupations.

For the undeterred or optimistic, here is a list of the top 10 highest-paying STEM jobs in the U.S. this year:

1. Petroleum engineers (more than 43,000 workers, making an average of $60/hr).

2. Architectural and engineering managers (198,000, $60/hr)

3. Computer and information systems managers (356,000, $55/hr)

4. Natural Sciences managers (50,000, $55/hr)

5. Physicists (19,000, $50/hr)

6. Aerospace engineers (83,000, $50/hr)

7. Mathematicians (4,100, $50/hr)

8. Computer hardware engineers (86,000, $45/hr)

9. Nuclear engineers (27,000, $45/hr)

10. Astronomers (2,500, $45/hr)

And the job market depends on how you look it at — on one hand, you may want to look at jobs with smaller numbers of employees because there may be more opportunity; on the other hand, there may not be enough demand and therefore less jobs to apply to. But either way, here are the top five STEM jobs in the U.S. with both the highest and lowest amount of employees in 2014:

LOWEST

1. Mathematical technicians, 1,449.

2. Astronomers, 2,563

3. Agricultural engineers, 2,892

4. Epidemiologists, 5,429

5. Industrial-organizational psychologists, 5,534

HIGHEST

1. Accountants and auditors, 1,683,255

2. Construction managers, 469,314

3. Computer and information systems managers, 356,688

4. Clinical, counseling and school psychologists, 345,044

5. Civil engineers, 306,325

However, if you are a woman or a minority in the U.S., the statistics also work against you.

The U.S. Census Bureau found that men continue to dominate STEM regardless of the intensified focus on recruiting women and minorities into related majors: about 86 percent of engineers and 74 percent of computer professionals are men, whereas women represent 63 percent of social scientists, 47 percent of life scientists and 45 percent of mathematicians.

But in his 2013 article, Hal Salzman gives some good news:

“The extensive STEM enhancement programs funded by the National Science Foundation and other government and nongovernmental foundations and organizations appear to have raised the general level of STEM education across a wide range of disciplines (for example, half of all college STEM credit hours are taken by non-STEM majors) and significantly increased STEM studies among underrepresented minorities and women.”

For an effective visual representation of this demographic representation in STEM careers, visit the Census Bureau’s website.

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry

Meg Fry covers manufacturing and retail. Meg joins NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television. She continues to write and market her own spec scripts and screenplays. You can contact her at megf@njbiz.com or @MegFry3 on Twitter.

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