Technical jobs pay more but hard to fill: Study shows employers face difficulty finding STEM workers

Technical jobs pay more but hard to fill: Study shows employers face difficulty finding STEM workers

July 7th, 2014 by Dave Flessner in Local Regional News

Denise Rice, director of Cleveland operations and development at Cormetech

Denise Rice, director of Cleveland operations and development...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

STEM job demand in metro Chattanooga

* 1,924 - Number of ads for job openings

* 34.1 percent - Share of job ads requiring STEM skills by applicants

* $53,949 - Average market value of advertised skill requirements for STEM jobs

Source: Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program analysis of 3.3 million job advertisements in the first quarter of 2013, as compiled by Burning Glass, a leader in labor market analytics.

Even with more than 20,000 unemployed Chattanoogans looking for work, local employers still had trouble filling many technical jobs requiring science, math and engineering backgrounds last year, according to a new study of job vacancies by the Brookings Institute.

Filling such technical jobs last year took more than twice as long as it took to fill other job vacancies even though STEM (science, technical, engineering and math) jobs paid nearly twice as much as non-technical jobs.

The Brookings study found STEM jobs comprised more than one of every three job vacancies in Chattanooga last year and paid annual salaries, on average, of $53,949.

The study also found that a high school graduate with a STEM background is in higher demand than a college grad without such skills, at least as measured by the length of time employers advertise to fill such jobs.

STEM jobs that require only a high school or associate's degree are advertised for 40 days on average vs. 37 days for jobs demanding a bachelor's degree only.

In Chattanooga only about half the STEM jobs required a college education last year.

It's a message that Cormetech's top manager in Cleveland, Tenn., Denise Rice, tries to tell to every school group she can talk with.

"I have jobs I can't fill," she said in an interview with Edge magazine, a monthly business magazine published by the Times Free Press. "We keep telling (young people) to go to college and get a degree, versus getting the skills that are necessary to get a job."

Rice tries to preach the value of manufacturing and the need for students to study technical and math courses to operate in 21st century factories.

"Diplomas count less and specific skills count much more," she said.

That's a message reinforced by the new Brookings study of every job opening advertised by companies on their websites -- a total 52,000 companies -- in the first quarter of 2013. In metro Chattanooga, 16.2 percent of the job vacancies last year were for technical jobs not requiring a college degree but still paying, on average, more than $50,000 a year.

"This groundbreaking data provides new evidence that hiring difficulty is a serious problem for many employers seeking workers with STEM skills," said Jonathan Rothwell, an associate Fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program who helped author the job study released last week. "Demand for other occupations, however, has not recovered from the recession, and so workers with no STEM knowledge or post-secondary degrees compete with many qualified candidates for a scarce number of jobs."

Rothwell predicts the gap in earnings and unemployment between STEM and non-STEM workers will worsen over time unless more technical training is provided in schools.

To respond to the growing demand for STEM workers, Hamilton County opened the STEM School Chattanooga at Chattanooga State in 2012 to train more high school graduates for technical fields. To encourage teachers to better understand STEM workplace needs, 34 teachers recently completed the 2013-2014 STEM Teaching Fellows program in conjunction with local businesses.

The share of job ads last year in Chattanooga requiring STEM skills was lower than in most major metro cities, suggesting that the shortage may not be as severe in Chattanooga as in most metro areas. Chattanooga ranked 80th among the top 100 metro areas in the share of job ads demanding STEM skills, according to Brookings.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree or 423-757-6340.