TAMPA - Employees in jobs requiring knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math, commonly known as STEM fields, are a much larger part of the national economy than generally thought, a Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program report released today says.
That's because half of STEM jobs are filled by workers with associates' degrees or less both nationally and in the Tampa Bay region, although those workers also require a high degree of knowledge in one of the STEM areas.
STEM jobs, which pay above-average wages both for those with bachelors degrees and higher and those with associate degrees and lower, are especially significant to the Tampa Bay region.
Higher paying jobs are in demand in the local area where median household income is comparatively low, ranking 91st among 100 major U.S. metro areas at $43,832.
In addition to providing higher wages, STEM jobs also are sought by locales and supported by government to bolster fields seen as critical for the United States to remain globally competitive and innovative.
The Brookings report indicated the Tampa-St.Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area had 207,470 STEM jobs in 2011, 19.2 percent of all jobs in the area. The local metropolitan area ranks 66th among 100 major U.S. areas in STEM job share.
STEM wages for jobs that require a bachelor's degree averaged $79,933 in the region, compared with non-STEM jobs requiring bachelors degree of $62,985.
For jobs requiring an associate degree or less, STEM jobs averaged $49,141 compared with the non-STEM average of $30,442.
Economic development interests on the local, state and federal levels have focused on STEM training and jobs.
The Tampa Bay Partnership, which provides economic development services for an eight-county region, identified four industry clusters with potential for high-wage, sustainable job growth, including two - applied medicine and human performance and high tech electronics and instruments - that fall within STEM fields.
Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 said he would make a priority of STEM education in Kindergarten-12th grades and the state university system, but the Brookings report indicates that vocational schools and community colleges also provide STEM workers.
The Obama administration increased the budget request for STEM education programs in fiscal 2014 by 6.7 percent to $3.1 billion but members of a Congressional committee challenged the administration's plan to trim STEM educational programs from 226 to 110 to better coordinate the programs.
But there has been little financial support for training at secondary institutions that provide technical training or associate degrees in the field, the Brookings report found.
The new awareness of STEM employment has major implications for education planning and funding, the report said. That's because only one-fifth of what the federal government spends on STEM education goes to support training below a bachelor's degree.
The vast majority of National Science Foundation spending ignores community colleges, the Brookings report said.
Such limited funding makes it harder for young workers to receive training in STEM careers like technicians and craft trades and for older adults to sharpen their skills through continuing education, the report said.
"Today there are two STEM economies," the report said. "The professional STEM economy is closely linked to graduate school education...and plays a vital function in keeping American businesses on the cutting edge of technological development.
"The second STEM economy draws from high schools, workshops, vocational schools and community colleges. These workers are less likely to be involved in innovation, but they ...advise researchers on practical aspects of technological development."