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Spring 2007 Vol. 51, Number 1

High-tech jobs for a high-tech economy

by Nicholas Terrell


Learning STEM

Success in STEM requires both technical and nontechnical skills and attributes. Curiosity, the ability to think logically, and creative problem-solving are highly valuable. Communication skills and teamwork are helpful, too.

All STEM workers need a firm grasp of mathematics; science knowledge is also important for many of the occupations. Preparation should begin in high school, with coursework and extracurricular activities focusing on honing problem-solving skills. After high school, STEM career requirements are more specific to the occupations.

High school preparation

Students interested in a STEM career should get started in high school by taking as much math and science as they can. Even those who struggle in these subjects during school can succeed on the job; with perseverance, many people who may have had difficulty with early math or science classes can later thrive in a STEM career.

There are many ways to build skills in math and science. Teachers may be available to give students extra help or to provide information about tutoring. School counselors might also have advice.

Associations sometimes provide educational assistance over the Internet. To learn more, see the sources of information at the end of this article.

Students might also be able to take courses at 2- and 4-year colleges during the summer. The more math and science students learn in high school, the easier it is to tackle advanced subjects later.

To further sharpen skills and explore career options, students might consider joining a math, science, engineering, or computer club at school. Starting a club at schools that donít already have one might not be difficult; ask a teacher or counselor for help. Club members often take field trips to science museums, go to math and science competitions, and help each other study.

Students can also participate in summer camps that are related to math, science, and computers. Campers take part in games and challenges and learn what itís like to have a STEM career. Depending on the type of camp, students might design and create their own computer programs or secret codes. Or they might build robots, motors, or architectural models.

Preparation after high school

As noted previously, the knowledge and abilities needed differ for specific STEM occupations. Education, certification, and experience are of varied importance. Changes in the number of degrees granted in STEM fields show how educational requirements are shifting and how the demand for these workers is increasing.

Specific requirements. Many scientists have a bachelorís degree; often, these scientists work as research assistants or in applied sciences. But for those who focus on research, a doctorate and, possibly, years of postdoctoral training are usually the minimum requirements.

Science technicians often need an associate degree or experience in building and using scientific equipment, in helping with data collection and analysis, or in other technical tasks. Some of these workers have a bachelorís degree.

Computer-related jobs usually require a degree, certification, or both. A bachelorís degree is the usual requirement for software engineers, systems analysts, and database administrators, but a masterís degree is becoming more common for workers doing higher level development. Computer support workers and network analysts often have an associate degree, certifications, or both. Computer scientists, like other scientists, often have a Ph.D.

Engineers need at least a bachelorís degree, and a masterís degree is becoming common. Engineering technicians and drafters often have an associate degree or experience in building models, helping with calculations, or doing other tasks.

Mathematical occupations usually require a masterís or doctoral degree. A notable exception is actuaries, who usually need at least a bachelorís degree and a passing score on an actuarial exam.

Degree trends. The number of bachelorís degrees awarded in STEM subjects has been increasing in the past few years after several years of slight decline,
according to the U.S. Department of Education. (See chart 3.) But the number of degrees in computer and information science has grown dramatically, reflecting increases both in the number of computer jobs available and in employersí preference for workers who have formal education in computer sciences.

Increases in degree awards for some STEM subjects are also apparent at the associate and masterís degree levels. For example, the number of associate degrees awarded in computer fields more than tripled in a decade, growing from about 12,600 degrees in 1994 to about 41,800 in 2004.

In that same decade, the number of masterís degrees granted in engineering declined before increasing from more than 30,000 in 1994 to more than 35,000 in 2004. Because more engineers are taking on managerial responsibilities, more schools are offering masterís degree programs that focus on the application of
engineering principles to industry rather than on basic research. These programs include coursework in finance, project management, and other areas of business. They may increase workersí chances for advancement.


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Last Updated: February 15, 2007