The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit think tank, came out this week with a new study that ranks the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue region No. 4 in the country in terms of the percentage of jobs in the area that require STEM knowledge.
About 25.9 percent of the jobs in this region require some sort of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) knowledge, according to the Brooking report. That’s a much higher percentage than what is typically thought of as STEM jobs because, interestingly, Brookings expanded the definition of STEM occupations in this study.
Although there is no one, set definition, people typically think of STEM fields as referring to professional occupations in computer science, engineering, IT work, mathematics and science. With that narrower definition, the percentage of jobs in the Seattle area that requires STEM knowledge is 8.6 percent, Rothwell said. That would still rank this area No. 4 nationwide.
The Brookings study’s broader definition, though, includes those fields, as well as medical occupations such as doctor and surgeon and blue-collar occupations, such as electrician, auto mechanic and plumber. Indeed, study author Jonathan Rothwell, a Brookings associate fellow, defines a STEM job as any that requires a high level of knowledge in any one STEM field.
Auto mechanics, for instance, may be responsible for “a fairly sophisticated understanding of how machines work — say, the process of internal combustion behind the repairs,” Rothwell said in a phone interview.
Taking that same approach, Rothwell concluded that about 20 percent of all jobs nationwide in 2011 were STEM jobs. That’s compared with the typical 4 to 5 percent cited using the narrower definition of STEM.
The report also found that half of all STEM jobs (typically in manufacturing, healthcare or construction) are available to workers without a four-year college degree, and that those jobs pay an average of $53,000. That average wage is about 10 percent higher than those in jobs with similar educational requirements.
“What we find is that jobs that require more STEM knowledge have lower unemployment rates, generally, and higher wages, generally, compared to workers with similar levels of education,” he said.
Here’s a chart from the report, called ‘The Hidden STEM Economy,” that shows the 10 Metropolitan areas with the largest percentage of STEM jobs — using Rothwell’s broader definition:
The takeaway, Rothwell said, is that there are “good paying jobs that require a high level of skill and that can be had without going to university for four years or more.” He believes that the narrower, “excessively professional” definition of STEM jobs leads to missed opportunities by policymakers in supporting education and training below the bachelor’s degree.
As to whether the study and its broader definition of STEM jobs has implications on current debates over immigration reform, Rothwell says they’re “separate issues, really.”
Microsoft, along with a host of other tech companies, would like Congress to raise the limits on the number of H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers. The companies say there is and will be such a shortage of STEM workers that they need to turn to workers from overseas to fill vacant jobs.
Rothwell says: “Immigration policy with respect to a small set of specialized workers is one issue. This is really about what training you need to get a good job in a field where the skillset is in high demand.”