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Chapter 6

From School to Workplace: The STEM Gap

A widening gap exists between demand and supply of qualified talent to work in the STEM fields.

Lockheed Martin and other advanced industry companies face a particularly difficult hiring challenge thanks to their need for engineers. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields are in high demand. Advanced industries, comprised of engineering and R&D-intensive companies, account for 30 percent of the state’s economy and over 500,000 jobs in STEM fields.

So what are the STEM fields? The eight STEM disciplines are chemistry, computer science, engineering, environmental science, geosciences, life sciences, mathematics and physics/astronomy. In combination, they are the basis of over 160 occupations—with more being developed as science and technology evolve. In the Denver and Colorado Springs areas, 22.4 percent of workers are in STEM occupations.

However, the STEM workforce is “aging out”—over 16 percent of current Colorado STEM workers are nearing retirement. Meanwhile, demand is increasing: from 2000 to 2010, job growth for STEM fields (7.9 percent) has tripled that of non-STEM fields (2.6 percent).

The Colorado Talent Pipeline’s annual report examines labor market data to identify “top jobs.” Top jobs are defined as those with projected high openings and above average growth rates, typically offering a living wage. While only 20 percent of all jobs across the Colorado workforce are classified as being in the STEM fields, 55 percent of the top jobs are classified as STEM—indicating a mismatch in education with employment opportunities.

As a result, STEM graduates to fill this demand are in short supply. While Colorado performs relatively well on some key STEM indicators, we aren’t tapping into our entire talent pool. Women make up 48 percent of Colorado’s workforce, yet hold only 23 percent of STEM jobs; meanwhile, Hispanics and Latinos comprise 16 percent of Colorado’s workforce but represent only 6 percent of our jobs in STEM fields.

Of STEM graduates that Colorado does produce, software engineers are often drawn to companies like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft that offer a host of perks plus the opportunity to work with thousands of similar-minded coworkers. But companies based outside of Silicon Valley need developers, too, and we need to find ways to grow them in, and attract them to, Colorado.

Across the board, leaders say there is a disconnect between the education community, the employer community, and the training community—and more collaboration is needed to bridge those gaps. In the next five to seven years, Colorado needs to invest in workforce planning and development to ensure that we aren’t disadvantaged because of competencies, technologies, or skill sets that we don’t have within our local talent pool.