STEM advocates for its four core categories to be taught together as related and interconnected fields, however not all areas within STEM are experiencing the same level of growth. As we covered in our article about the STEM labor shortage and surplus, STEM is not a monolith. Some areas of STEM are growing faster than others, and other areas are not growing at all.
The current market for STEM is dominated by computer-related occupations, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted would be 71% of STEM careers by 2018. This is followed by engineering at only 16%, physical sciences at 7%, life sciences at 4%, and mathematics at 2%. According to the Department for Professional Employees (DPE), occupations related to computers and mathematics were driving growth from the years of 2005-2015, and accounted for 79.5% of STEM job growth in that decade. This disparity is best highlighted in this quote from DPE, “From 2005 to 2015, architecture and engineering occupations added 161,000 jobs while life, physical, and social science occupations added 129,000 jobs. At the same time, computer and mathematical occupations added 1,123,000 jobs.” That means computer and mathematical occupations added seven times the number of jobs as either science or engineering.
However, even within fields, there is variation. During the same period of time DPE reports the computer programmers faced a 17.4% drop in employment. While the number of gains in engineering jobs was ultimately smaller than that of computer and mathematics related occupations, aerospace engineers hand a 53% increase in employment. Medical scientists also saw an increase in employment by 26%, which equates to 32,000 new jobs. Electrical engineers, drafters, biologists, and chemists all faced decreases in employment.
When considering percent increases or percent decreases within a field, it is important to pay attention to the size of that field. For instance, through 2024, mathematics occupations are projected to grow the fastest with a percent growth rate of 28.2%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Within mathematics, statisticians are expected to be the fastest growing occupation as a growth rate of 33.8%. However, as mentioned above, mathematics was only projected to be about 2% of the current market. While mathematics related occupations have the highest percent growth rate, they are only the 4th highest in the projection of newly created jobs. Ultimately the percent growth rate will amount to only about 42,000 new jobs. The same is true of the field with the second highest growth rate, STEM-related postsecondary teachers. While their percent growth rate is around 13%, due to the small size of the field, this will make them the 5th largest job creator.
So what field will net the most new jobs? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while computer occupations only have the third largest projected percent growth at 12.5%, this equates to nearly half a million new jobs by 2024. This is because, as mentioned above, computer related occupations make up the majority of the market. Applications software developers were the largest field within computer related occupations with over 700,000 workers. The only field within computer related occupations expected to decline, again, is computer programmers. Overall, computer related occupations are expected to add 5 times the number of new jobs as any other STEM field. When including pre-existing jobs that are looking for new employees due to retirement, etc., the number of job openings is predicted to reach over 1 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The second largest group in terms of new jobs added is engineering, with a total of 65,000 new jobs. Biomedical engineers are predicted to face the fastest percent growth within engineering, at 23.1%. Following that, mechanical engineers are projected to grow at nearly 20%, and civil engineers are supposed to grow by over 10%. While electrical engineers did decrease by 14% from the years of 2005-2015, there is an expected growth rate of over 10% by 2024.
The only general fields expected to decline are drafters, engineering technicians, and mapping technicians. Their percent decrease is 1.4%, accounting for about 9,600 jobs lost by 2024.
The U.S. Department of Education predicted a 14% overall growth for STEM occupations by 2020. Within STEM, the department predicted major spikes in job growth in software, medical science, and biomedical engineering. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 90% of entry-level STEM occupations require some higher education, with the vast majority requiring a bachelor’s degree. However, as covered in a previous article, job openings requiring PhD’s struggle the most in finding qualified applicants.
Different areas of STEM are growing at vastly different rates, and even within general fields of STEM, growth rates can vary. The demand for STEM labor will continue to increase as STEM becomes a larger part of our economy. It is important not only to observe the demand due to new job openings, but also the supply of applicants there to fill that demand. For more information, please check out our article on the STEM labor shortage.