By Adam Wilmoth
Copyright © 2013, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Education in math and science is even more important because of the changing economy, according to findings released Monday by the Brookings Institute.
The report expands the definition of jobs that require knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known collectively as STEM. Under the new classification, nearly 20 percent of jobs in Oklahoma and nationwide require such education.
The new definition includes jobs such as construction trades workers, metal workers and vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics, installers and repairers in addition to more traditional science and technology jobs such as engineers, scientists, financial specialists and business operations specialists.
University of Oklahoma economist Bob Dauffenbach said the expanded definition is appropriate because many more traditional jobs now require a greater understanding of science, technology and math.
He pointed to an example of a kitchen remodeling company that uses lasers to measure a room and calculate the amount of materials needed to complete the project.
“It’s hard to find a vocation these days that isn’t accompanied by a laptop,” Dauffenbach said. “They seem to be placing an emphasis on the need for mathematics and analytic understanding for a growing number of professions. That fits with my view of why it’s a great concern that we don’t seem to be doing that well in kindergarten through 12th-grade mathematics training in terms of how our students compare to those internationally.”
Scott Meacham, president and CEO of Oklahoma City-based technology nonprofit i2E Inc., welcomed the expanded definition, which he said better reflects the state and country’s economy.
“If you look at a lot of the jobs today in the modern economy, whether it be in the energy industry or the aerospace industry or any other big industry in Oklahoma, there’s a lot of STEM knowledge required,” Meacham said. The new definition “acknowledges the reality of those jobs today and what employees need to know to be successful in those jobs.”
The study also points to the importance of a strong focus on math and science in elementary and secondary education, Meacham said.
“I hope the implication for our state as a whole is an increased awareness of the STEM education system and hopefully an increased focus on STEM education,” he said. “You’re seeing loud and clear that these are the types of jobs that increasingly we’re going to look to to grow our economy.”
To meet that need, the state recently created the Coalition for the Advancement of Science and Math Education in Oklahoma to study and improve the state’s science and technology education systems.
Jeff Downs, executive director for STEM for the Oklahoma Department of Education, is a member of the coalition. He said the broader definition fits with what he has seen throughout Oklahoma.
“The list of jobs requiring knowledge in the STEM fields is going to continue to grow because of the ever-changing workforce and because industry is becoming more technical every day,” Downs said. “What we don’t see is an increase in graduates with STEM backgrounds. That’s what we’re trying to address. Our vision and our mission are to ensure Oklahoma students become inspired learners and leaders who want to solve challenges in a world that is vastly emerging with STEM careers.”
Monday’s Brookings report found that about 20 percent of all jobs nationwide — or 26 million — require a high knowledge in at least one STEM field. About half of the jobs are filled with workers with less than a bachelor’s degree.
In Oklahoma, nearly 106,000 jobs, or 19.7 percent, are considered STEM jobs, with 56 percent requiring an associate degree or less education.
The report also showed that in Oklahoma, STEM jobs pay an average of nearly $59,000, up from an average of more than $34,000 for non-STEM jobs. STEM jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree pay nearly $76,000, up from almost $56,000 for non-STEM jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.