WV STEM employment is ahead of national average
Op-ed in The State Journal, October 27, 2016
By Anne Barth
Would it come as a surprise to you to learn that West Virginia has a solid STEM employment sector?
For too long, the perception has persisted that West Virginia lags behind in this area, but the reality is that we are actually a bit ahead of the national average.
In a survey commissioned by TechConnect West Virginia, the West Virginia Department of Commerce found that 48,553 people worked in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the state in 2015. This represented 6.7 percent of the state’s total workforce in 2015 and was above the national average of 6.2 percent.
The survey found that West Virginia’s 48,553 STEM economy jobs support another 190,000 jobs in the state, and the average STEM job hourly wage in West Virginia is $28.89 per hour.
In addition to the 48,553 working in STEM-related fields, another 56,600 workers are employed in health care/medical jobs in the state. And more than 2,400 workers are post-secondary teachers of STEM subjects.
What a nice change to be ahead of the national average, if only slightly.
Why is it important to know where we stand in terms of STEM jobs? First, it provides direction on our strengths and weaknesses. Second, it establishes a baseline for measuring future growth.
STEM-related jobs are important because nationally, they drive the economy through innovation and increased competitiveness. They generate new industries, new companies and new job opportunities. They are highly desirable because they pay higher-than-average wages, are more recession-proof and are among the fastest-growing sector of jobs across the nation.
Our survey used data from the National Center for O*Net Development, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Labor, which categorizes jobs by the type of STEM discipline required.
In counting the STEM jobs in West Virginia, the survey included the obvious STEM employment fields — engineers, accountants, architects and computer science — that require a four-year (or plus) college degree.
But the survey also included STEM jobs that require less education, including on-the-job training and/or one- and two-year degrees from community and technical colleges. This category would include, for example, chemical process technicians, mechatronics and aircraft mechanics.
It is important to not overlook the strong potential workforce of those with less than a four-year degree but substantial STEM skills. Sometimes called the “hidden STEM economy,” these jobs are also critical to driving economic growth. In fact, this is an area in which West Virginia could focus concentrated efforts to expand opportunities. Right now, there’s a lot of interest in computer coding classes that are not four-year programs, but rather offered in blocks of eight-week or 10-week sessions. Developing a workforce proficient in digital fluency and computer coding could be a niche that positions West Virginia for jobs that are needed across many industry sectors.
This data will help West Virginia as we continue to prepare for the jobs of the future, which will rely heavily on science, technology, engineering and math skills. TechConnect is committed to supporting programs and activities that grow the number of STEM jobs in the state. Join us! Learn more at techconnectwv.com.