Economic Development Research Group Blog

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Measuring the STEM-Intensity of Your Region


I recently participated in a workforce roundtable at The Council for Community and Economic Research's (C2ER’s) annual conference in Atlanta. C2ER is a membership organization comprised of economic researchers and data providers from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. This year’s conference theme was “RISE: Resiliency, Innovation, Skills, Equity,” which inspired me to present on workforce data and how it can be used to find job opportunities for people who don’t have a college degree.


My presentation explained how STEM occupations—those requiring knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math—are often thought of as well-paying, white-collar jobs held by people with high levels of education. These include engineers and scientists, for example. In reality, there are many occupations that require a level of STEM knowledge and still pay well but are accessible to people without a college degree. These include jobs like arborists, diesel mechanics, electricians, and land surveyors.

This disconnect is problematic because it means those involved in workforce development may underestimate the need for STEM skills in their region. It also means that high school students may overlook certain job opportunities or question the value of their STEM education.

My goal was to help conference attendees overcome this issue by sharing several resources and a case study from EDR Group’s work in Lynchburg, Virginia. The first resource I shared was the O*NET Knowledge Survey, a product of the U.S. Department of Labor. O*NET surveys individuals in various occupations about the knowledge required to do their job. They consider 33 knowledge areas, six of which capture the STEM fields. There’s biology, chemistry, physics, computers and electronics, engineering, and mathematics. Each survey respondent ranks the level of knowledge needed to perform their job on a 7-point scale.

The second resource I shared was a report by the Brookings Institution called The Hidden STEM Economy. In it, the authors use results from O*NET to identify occupations that require STEM knowledge but typically fall outside the purview of STEM-oriented workforce development. These include transportation inspectors, of which there are over 20,000 in the U.S.; construction and building inspectors, of which there are over 80,000; and HVAC mechanics and installers, of which there are over 230,000.

The last resource I shared was industry-occupation matrix data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which allows researchers to convert employment by industry in their region into employment by occupation. To illustrate how EDR Group uses each of these data sources, I shared the methodology and findings from the Lynchburg Regional Connectivity Study, a report we produced for the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2017. What we found was that healthcare practitioners account for the largest share of STEM jobs in the Lynchburg region (38%), followed by installation, maintenance, and repair jobs (29%). Across all sectors, 14 percent of jobs in the Lynchburg region are in occupations that have high requirements for STEM knowledge.


The findings from our Lynchburg study and the resources I shared spurred a great discussion among attendees around ways to identify STEM occupations and determine who workforce development programs are missing. I would highly recommend C2ER’s annual conference to anyone interested in data and how it can be used to create opportunity. Hopefully I’ll see you next year!


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