Technical Difficulties: Meeting California’s Workforce Needs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Fields

June 2009

Key Findings

STEM jobs are vital to the California economy, but a shortage of skilled workers may decrease the state’s strength in STEM fields.

  • California has historically benefited from a disproportionately large share of STEM jobs. On average, STEM occupations are higher paying than non-STEM occupations.
  • The state faces a future in which there are too few workers skilled in STEM fields to meet the demand. Many STEM jobs require some postsecondary education and the state is currently producing too few graduates to meet projected demand.
  • Health Care and Social Assistance and the Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services are the two industry sectors likely to be most affected by STEM skill shortages.

Employment demand in STEM fields is growing faster than employment demand in non-STEM fields.

  • Keeping with recent trends, between 2006 and 2016, employment in STEM occupations is expected to grow faster than employment in non-STEM occupations.
  • Growth in STEM employment demand is fueled by multiple factors including the increasingly knowledgebased economy and an aging population that will increase the need for health care workers. Job openings will be more difficult to fill because older workers, who are closer to retirement, are better educated than younger workers who will be taking their places.

The supply of STEM-educated workers is not keeping pace with demand.

  • The number of degrees and certificates awarded in STEM fields is increasing more slowly than the number of degrees and certificates in non-STEM fields.
  • Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the population but are underrepresented in college; moreover, a smaller share of Latinos who earn a college credential do so in a STEM field than white or Asian/Pacific Islander students. A smaller share of women who complete a college credential do so in a non-health care STEM field than is the case for men.
  • National and international demand for STEM workers is increasing. In the future, California may no longer be able to rely on the migration of skilled workers from other states and countries to help meet the demand.
  • The state’s financial difficulties will likely limit the production of STEM workers by California’s educational institutions. Cuts in enrollment will result in fewer students able to attend college; some STEM programs may be disproportionately affected because of higher costs.

Not all STEM graduates become STEM employees.

As in any field, not all people with a STEM education work in a related occupation. Some STEM graduates may not find employment in their field because some STEM fields have surpluses of workers, even while large shortages exist for others, or because graduates may not have the skills that employers expect. Also, some STEM graduates may choose not to work in STEM fields for a variety of reasons.

State lawmakers can take actions to help the state meet future STEM workforce needs:

  1. Better preparation of students, particularly in math and science, would increase the number of STEM graduates by improving the success of students in postsecondary education and by fostering interest in STEM fields.
  2. Improving communication about opportunities in STEM and creating clear pathways for students to follow through school to STEM careers would increase interest in and completion of STEM programs.
  3. Creating financial incentives for students, colleges, and universities is another way to increase the supply of STEM workers.
  4. Increasing STEM achievement by underrepresented groups is necessary to ensure that there are enough STEM workers.
  5. Providing needed financial support for educational programs that are critical to meeting workforce needs would ensure the state’s long-term prosperity.
  6. Better coordination between industry and educational institutions is necessary to ensure that graduates have the skills necessary to succeed at STEM occupations of high need.
  7. Encouraging people with STEM degrees to enter and remain employed in STEM fields is another means of meeting workforce needs.
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