STEM education offers promise of jobs




The state of Arizona has twice the amount of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) job openings than workers who are qualified to fill them.

With a 2-to-1 ratio of job openings to job seekers, there is an increasing need for new talent in the state’s STEM workforce.

“It’s a national issue. I just think it’s really bad in Arizona,” said Martha Ostheimer, assistant director of the STEM learning center at the University of Arizona.

The country’s science and technology workforce, 7.4 million people in 2012, is expected to exceed 8.6 million by 2018. Over the next several years, the jobs in the STEM industry will continue to grow at a rapid pace.

Arizona ranks low in producing skilled STEM workers needed in today’s economy. Two recent surveys of 1,300 middle and high school students in Arizona conducted by Teachers in Industry found that only 64 percent of those students understood what a STEM job involved. Only a third of those students admitted to being interested in pursuing a career in those fields.

Teachers in Industry, a University of Arizona program, lets current teachers experience paid summer internships in their respective fields. That allows them to bring more expertise into their classrooms to help better educate their students on what industries require.

The state of Arizona is taking steps to help ensure future generations will be passionate about these careers and able to produce qualified STEM personnel.

There are STEM summer camps throughout the state, and several take place in Southern Arizona. These camps are intended to get children, grades 3-5, excited about science, technology and other STEM industries.

“If you graduate citizens who have some proficiency in science and math, they are capable of succeeding in any field they choose to pursue,” Ostheimer said. “You need people who are numeral, who know how to work with numbers.”

A study done in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Commerce showed STEM workers earned an average of $25 per hour, about $9 more than those in other occupations. Only one of every 10 STEM workers have a high school diploma or less, meaning education for these positions is vital.

In 2010, according to the United States Department of Education, the average hour salary wages for workers with a high school diploma or less in STEM industries was $24.82 and $15.55 in non-STEM industries.

Workers with some college or associate degree for STEM occupations was $26.63 and for non-STEM industries was $19.02. Those who earned a bachelor’s degree received $35.81 in STEM industries and $28.27 in non-STEM fields, while employees with graduate degrees earned $40.69 in STEM industries and $36.22 in non-STEM occupations.

Charles Tack, public information officer for the Arizona Education Department, said the state’s districts understand that motivating and inspiring students to pursue STEM-related education will generate more opportunities for successful careers.

“STEM is not for everyone, but the goal around the state is to produce STEM students, as a lot of the STEM careers are the careers of the future,” Tack said.

It is also essential to demonstrate the importance of STEM education to middle and high school students because growth of STEM industry jobs from 2008 to 2018 is expected to grow 17 percent, and non-STEM jobs only 9.8 percent. Demand, in other words, will be high for skilled workers.

“These students will be pushing themselves in school are these courses are more challenging, so they have a better chance to succeed in these industries,” Tack said.

The U.S. Department of Commerce also projects that if the United States remains dominant in science and technology industries and stays competitive in a fast-changing economy, it will need 1 million more STEM professionals over the next decade than it is currently expected to produce.

“We are seeing kind of a movement in today’s schooling,” Tack said. “Many schools have students that all have laptops to introduce them to technology. Schools are really trying to make STEM opportunities available for their students.”

Another way to prepare students for careers in STEM industries is to teach them coding and computer science.

The Phoenix Coding Academy, part of the Phoenix Union High School District, is set to open in fall 2016. It hopes to inspire more high school students to continue studying computer science and coding throughout their time at their respective college or university.

Todd Proebsting, department head of computer science at the University of Arizona, said computer science is of growing importance in today’s workforce.

“Three application domains are growing very rapidly: internet services, sensor networks and machine learning,” he said. “Literally every scientific and commercial endeavor is likely to have a software component today.”

Michael Edmond is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at

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