Half of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs are open to workers without a bachelor’s degree, according to a new Brookings report, The Hidden STEM Economy. These jobs in manufacturing, health care, construction, installation, maintenance and repair pay $53,000 on average, 10 percent more than jobs with similar educational requirements. For example, a computer systems analyst averages $82,320 without a four-year degree, according to Brookings.
Overall, 20 percent of U.S. jobs now require STEM skills, Brookings estimates.
Even in high-tech Silicon Valley, there’s a demand for people with math and fix-it skills but no bachelor’s degree, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
Tae Kim and other students learn computer software for drafting and manufacturing at De Anza College in Cupertino. (Patrick Tehan, Bay Area News Group)
“Jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree represent a hidden and unheralded STEM economy,” said Jonathan Rothwell, author of the report. “The overemphasis on four-year and higher degrees as the only route to these careers has neglected cheaper and more widely available pathways,” he said.
The report urges policymakers to boost funding for training in such careers as toolmaking, technical writing and technician work — the critical pick-and-shovel brigades in tech’s gold rush. Of the $4.3 billion spent annually by the federal government on tech-oriented education and training, just one-fifth goes toward training below the bachelor’s degree level. National Science Foundation spending largely ignores community colleges, it asserts.
At De Anza College‘s Manufacturing/CNC Technology Lab, students learn to run software programs and visualize multidimensional projects using $500,000 machines.
“There was a time when machine operators just pushed buttons. Those are the jobs we’ve lost — the simple, cheap, push-button jobs,” said Mike Appio, the lab’s department head. “Now everything is numbers. You need the ability to keep machines running on five axes spinning at one time.”
Patrick Pickerell dropped out of high school, learned to make coiled metal springs and kept on going. He runs Peridot, which specializes in precision manufacturing. His workers need “math proficiency, but not advanced math, like calculus,” he said. “Kids that are gearheads are excellent candidates … people who enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together.”