Employment Outlook for STEM Professionals Is Robust -- and Moving Beyond Traditional Occupations

January 22, 2013

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STEM occupations generate the technological changes that shape all other occupations, and the outlook for such jobs is encouragingly positive. Here’s a birds-eye view of the growing demand for STEM careers.

From 2000 to 2010, growth in STEM jobs (7.9 percent) was three times as fast as employment growth in non-STEM jobs (2.6 percent) in the United States. In 2010, there were 7.6 million STEM workers in the nation, equating to about one in 18 workers, according to a 2011 research brief from the Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA).

Credit: renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Credit: renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By 2018, STEM occupations will account for about 8.6 million jobs in the U.S. economy, up from 7.3 million in 2008, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) projected in a 2010 report. In a separate study in late 2011, focused on STEM education and occupations, CEW concluded that STEM is second only to healthcare as the fastest-growing occupational category in the economy.

Indeed, looking ahead, both ESA and CEW expect STEM employment to grow at a faster pace relative to other occupations. Through 2018, both research organizations forecast STEM occupations will grow by 17 percent, compared with slightly less than 10 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.

Moreover, CEW posits there will be 2.4 million job openings for STEM workers between 2008 and 2018. That consists of 1.1 million net new STEM jobs and 1.3 million replacement positions generated by STEM workers who permanently leave the workforce.

WHERE THE NEW STEM JOBS WILL BE

According to a 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, in consultation with the National Economic Council, computer and math occupations account for close to half of all STEM employment today, followed by engineering with 32 percent of STEM jobs; physical and life sciences account for 13 percent, and STEM management jobs make up 9 percent.

The following is a look at projected STEM openings in scientific and technical job fields through 2018, based on CEW’s findings.

Computer and Mathematical Scientists: These occupations accounted for 3.4 million jobs in 2008, or 2.3 percent of all jobs, and are forecast to grow to 4.2 million jobs in 2018. Computer occupations dominate this category, although mathematical science occupations are expected to grow by roughly 20 percent. Some 1.5 million positions will become available in this category through 2018: 798,000 net new jobs and 707,000 replacement openings. This occupational category is projected to grow in every industry due to its integral role in broad-based technological change, yet almost half of the growth is projected in professional and business services. Engineers and Engineering Technicians: Representing the second-largest share of jobs in STEM occupations, engineers and engineering technicians accounted for 2 million jobs in 2008, or 1.4 percent of all jobs, and are forecast to grow by 187,000 jobs through 2018. Engineers and related professions are expected to generate 522,000 total job openings by 2018: 187,000 net new jobs and 335,000 replacement openings. The largest growth in this category will likely be for civil engineers, who can expect more than 100,000 openings based on newly created jobs and the need to replace workers projected to retire over the next decade. Architects and Architectural Technicians: These occupations accounted for more than 440,000 jobs in 2008, or about 0.3 percent of overall employment, and are forecast to rise by roughly 30,000 jobs by 2018. Approximately 266,000 total job openings are expected in this category by 2018: 34,000 net new jobs and 231,000 openings as a result of workers retiring. Life and Physical Scientists: These occupations accounted for about 873,000 jobs in 2008, or 0.6 percent of total employment, and are forecast to add almost another 130,000 positions by 2018. This occupational category is expected to provide 263,000 total job openings by 2018: 129,000 net new jobs and 134,000 openings from retirements. Medical scientists and environmental health scientists, in particular, are expected to experience the greatest growth in this category between 2008 and 2018. Social Scientists: These occupations accounted for roughly 550,000 jobs in 2008, or about 0.4 percent of overall U.S. employment, and are forecast to grow by more than 82,000 jobs by 2018. Taking into account both new jobs and retirements, total job openings could total as high as 275,000 jobs over the decade. More than half the growth in social sciences occupations is expected to come from higher demand for market and survey research workers.

A report from Kelly Services in December offered a visual snapshot of U.S. STEM career growth. Taking a closer look at specific occupations, the workforce solutions provider indicated that these eight have the highest projected growth through 2020:

  • Biomedical Engineer (62 percent growth)
  • Medical Scientist, except Epidemiologist (36 percent)
  • Software Developer, Systems (32 percent)
  • Biochemist and Biophysicist (31 percent)
  • Database Administrator (31 percent)
  • Network and Computer Systems Administrator (28 percent)
  • Software Developer, Applications (28 percent)
  • Actuary (27 percent)
While biomedical engineer also topped the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology’s list of fastest-growing jobs through 2018, the research above underscores the expectation that many of the fastest-growing STEM occupations will be IT/computer-related.

ADDITIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR STEM PROFESSIONALS

Although STEM occupations are represented across all industries, they are most concentrated in the professional and business services (21 percent) and information services (14 percent) industries, while the bulk of engineers and engineering technicians are in manufacturing, the CEW findings indicate.

Moreover, demand for STEM talent is growing even faster outside of traditional STEM occupations, according to CEW’s 2011 STEM study.

For instance, growth in demand for core STEM competencies – the knowledge, skills and abilities commonly associated with STEM workers – is especially strong in occupations in professional and business services, as well as healthcare services. Meanwhile, in industries such as advanced manufacturing, mining and utilities and transportation, technology advancements may be reducing overall employment, but they are simultaneously increasing demand for STEM competencies among the more highly skilled workers in those industries.

“Innovation and technology change have led to demand for STEM competencies beyond traditional STEM occupations. Previously, STEM work had been concentrated among an elite few workers. Today, competencies necessary for innovation are scattered across a wider swath of the economy,” CEW stated in the executive summary of its STEM study. “STEM competencies are needed in a broader reach of occupations, and their use is growing outside of STEM. What’s more, people within these occupations that use STEM competencies most intensely are earning significantly more than those who are not.”

This increasing demand for STEM knowledge, skills and abilities allows many individuals with STEM talent to leave STEM occupations to pursue other professions that also make significant use of their STEM knowledge and skills.

 

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