STEM occupations don’t dominate good-paying jobs

Conventional wisdom has it that there are two dominant paths to good-paying jobs and careers: STEM occupations and the skilled trades. In this post I want to focus on the proportion of good-paying Michigan jobs that are in STEM. (STEM, as you know, is shorthand for science, technology, engineering and math.)

In our next post we will do the same for blue collar jobs, including but not limited to the skilled trades.

First what do we mean by STEM? Our definition is jobs in Computer and Mathematical Occupations; Architecture and Engineering Occupations; Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations; Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations; and Healthcare Support Occupations.

We separate health care occupations from the engineering, IT and other math and science occupations. These occupations include the so-called professional trades in IT and health care.

In a previous post we found that in Michigan’s strong 2019 economy only 44 percent of Michigan jobs are in occupations with median wage above the national median of $39,810. For this post we will refer to jobs above the national median as good-paying jobs.

Let’s look at how many of those jobs are in STEM. Of the 1,881,000 good-paying Michigan jobs, 269,000 (14 percent) are in non health care STEM occupations and 249,000 (13 percent) are in health care occupations. So combined 27 percent of good-paying Michigan jobs are in STEM occupations.

The good-paying STEM occupations are predominantly in our high-wage category. Occupations where median wages are at or above the national 75th percentile of $64,240. 42 percent of those high-wage jobs are in STEM occupations: 23 percent in non health care STEM and 19 percent in STEM. These jobs are in occupations that overwhelmingly require a four-year degree or more.

In our middle-wage category, those occupations with median wages between the 50th and 75th percentile nationally, 12 percent of jobs are in STEM occupations: 5 percent in non health care STEM and 7 percent in health care.

So the story we should be telling ourselves––and particularly our kids––is yes there are lots of good-paying jobs and careers in STEM, but there are even more good-paying jobs in non STEM occupations. That the good-paying STEM jobs are overwhelmingly in occupations that require a four-year degree or more. That is particularly true for the highest-paid occupations. So STEM is a path, but not the only or even the dominant path, to a good-paying career.

We explored in our The preeminent path to good-paying careers post the story we should be telling all kids. That today’s high-paid jobs are concentrated in a wide variety of professional and managerial occupations, a majority of which are not in STEM fields.

As recommended in that post a good place to start is by watching a Phi Beta Kappa sponsored panel. The description by the panelists of their career paths is really worth watching. What the panelists describe is a career path that looks more like rock climbing than climbing a career ladder. More ad hoc and non linear than predictable and linear. The paths they took and the skills that allowed them to succeed are a far more accurate description of today’s labor market realities than the STEM-dominant story that has become conventional wisdom.

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