STEM Occupations Beginning to Flower in KC
by Jeff Pinkerton
More and more, how well an economy grows depends on how much it can incorporate new knowledge into its products. You can see this in just about any industry. We need more programmers, more engineers and more scientists to satisfy today’s demands for faster, cheaper, and better goods and services. Even in traditionally manual occupations like manufacturing we see emphasis shifting from physically building a product to programming the machines that build products. Now, more than ever, the economy needs STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) workers.
Nationally, 20 percent of all jobs are in occupations requiring STEM knowledge, according to a new report from the Brookings Institute. The same holds true for the Kansas City metro, with 20.4 percent of it jobs in STEM occupations. Kansas City ranks 39th out of the largest 100 metros nationwide in the proportion of STEM jobs, but is 26th in terms of its total number of STEM jobs.
Not surprisingly, San Jose ranks highest, with a third of its jobs requiring STEM knowledge. Some of Kansas City’s peer metros also rank fairly high as shown in the chart below.
One of the most surprising things about the Brookings report is that these STEM jobs do not always require higher levels of education. In fact, 48 percent of all local STEM jobs require an associate degree or less.
Regardless of the level of education, though, it is clear that STEM knowledge pays off. Of all workers with an associate degree or less in the metro area, those in a STEM field make $20,000 more a year than their counterparts in non-STEM fields (an average $52,680 compared to $32, 801).
For those with a bachelor’s degree or greater, STEM careers pay an average of $80,680 vs. $64,128 outside of STEM.
There are always new economic trends and many are short lived, but this emphasis on STEM skills is likely here to stay, and Kansas City has the potential to ride this trend into the future. Kansas City is already a hub for engineering, with several world renowned companies headquartered here. Our children are getting more exposure to STEM through programs like PREPKC, Summit Tech Academy, Blue Valley CAPS and the KC STEM Alliance.