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STEM industries are experiencing a revolution in blue-collar jobs, as discussed during a panel on blue-collar STEM by National Science Board (NSB) member Dr. Victor McCrary. (Photo credit: Frame Stock Footage, Shutterstock.com)

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The NSB oversees the National Science Foundation and focuses on the STEM workforce, including skilled technical workers, otherwise known as blue-collar STEM workers. Currently, there is a debate on the importance of preparing the next generation of blue-collar STEM workers to meet the demand for skilled labor.

Over the past 25 years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has invested $1 billion in technician training for high-tech industries through its Advance Technological Education Program, aiming to improve technician education.

The United States currently employs over 6.7 million skilled technical workers, and job openings in science and engineering occupations are expected to be most prevalent in computer and mathematical sciences between 2014 and 2024.

The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), a part of the U.S. National Science Foundation, recently released a report titled “Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in 2023,” analyzing diversity trends in STEM employment and education.

Despite earning 50% of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees and 49% of associate degrees, women make up only 35% of the STEM workforce and are paid less than men. During the COVID-19 pandemic, women, Hispanic, and Black students pursued advanced degrees in science and engineering fields in increasing numbers.

In 2021, only 24% of the STEM workforce was comprised of Hispanic, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native people, despite comprising 31% of the U.S. population.

They were more likely to work in STEM occupations that require technical skills or certification than a bachelor’s degree or higher education but had lower median earnings than white or Asian STEM workers.

The number of associate’s degrees in science and engineering awarded to Hispanic students tripled between 2011 and 2020, but almost two-thirds of Hispanics in STEM work in jobs that do not require a four-year degree. Furthermore, unemployment rates were higher for Black and Hispanic STEM workers in 2021 compared to white and Asian workers.

In 2021, only 21% of workers with at least one disability worked in STEM occupations, and 3% of the STEM workforce were people with disabilities. Finally, only 11% of science and engineering doctorate recipients in 2021 reported having at least one disability.

NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan believes that diversity is America’s unique advantage in science and technology and that leveraging different backgrounds, experiences, and points of view can bring unique insights to problem-solving and discovery. The Diversity and STEM report provides objective, reliable data on progress towards access and equity in STEM education and careers.

Although the report suggests that women and Hispanics have made significant progress in the STEM workforce over the past decade, those broad patterns are only universal across some STEM occupations and fields of study. The report is the first in its series to look beyond careers that require a bachelor’s degree.

Equal access to the STEM workforce is important because those jobs offer higher wages and lower unemployment rates regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, or disability status.

However, the report notes that women, Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaska Native people are working in STEM jobs and earning more degrees in science and engineering at all levels compared to previous years. Nonetheless, these groups, along with people with disabilities, remain underrepresented in STEM fields compared to their overall distribution in the U.S. population.

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