Blue-collar jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are changing the way we think about STEM. A few weeks after Labor Day in 2017, Dr. Victor McCrary, a member of the National Science Board (NSB), gave a great definition of blue-collar jobs in STEM while speaking to a panel on blue-collar STEM.

“The NSB, the governing board of the National Science Foundation, cares about the STEM workforce, he said. “This includes ‘blue-collar STEM’ workers, or what the National Academies have termed the ‘Skilled Technical Workforce.’”

There’s a national discussion on the need to replenish the pipeline of skilled workers by training future blue-collar STEM workers. This renewed focus is attempting to reverse the trend that David Stern of U.C. Berkeley identifies as “the non-college track, which is gradually disappearing from American high schools.”

From national policies to National Science Foundation programs, there are high-level discussions on how to best fill these necessary jobs with high school graduates and those seeking training other than a traditional four-year degree.

When it comes to seeking a blue-collar STEM job, there are two optimal ways to prepare yourself to increase your appeal to potential employers—apprenticeships and internships.

Blue-collar STEM careers are those requiring technical skills, problem-solving, and specialized training that is more than a high school diploma, but less than a traditional four-year degree. These types of jobs cut across industries, such as IT, computer science, engineering, energy, and many more.

These jobs range from staff who install, maintain, and service systems in homes and businesses to programmers who develop and maintain landing pages, login portals, servers, and databases.

While some careers in STEM command a four-year or graduate degree, over half are available to applicants without a traditional four-year college degree.

Blue-collar STEM jobs require apprenticeships and learned technical skills, like electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians. These workers install, service, and maintain infrastructures from as large as state and citywide systems to individual businesses and homes. According to The Hidden STEM Economy, “installation, maintenance, and repair occupations constitute 12 percent of all STEM jobs, one of the largest occupational categories.”

  • Education-adjusted wage premiums for blue-collar STEM jobs are on average 10 percent greater than their non-STEM counterparts for an average salary of $53,000. In some regions of the country, these average wages are 50 percent higher than non-STEM wages.
  • Graduates of apprenticeship programs (more common in STEM fields) earn an average of $250,000 more in lifetime earnings, according to Harvard Business Review. More specific to several industries, electricians and plumbers earn an average of around $57,000, while HVAC technicians earned an average of $50,000.
  • IT employees such as web developers and computer programmers earned far above the national average, which is $47,000. These higher-than-average salaries are even more appealing considering that obtaining a bachelor’s degree only raises the average U.S. salary to $70,000, but potentially carries the burden of student loans and fewer years of earnings while in school.
  • Blue-collar STEM jobs are more widespread geographically than higher education STEM occupations, which tend to be focused more in metropolitan areas. This is good news for students spread out across the nation searching for a higher-paying job than average.
  • Blue-collar STEM careers will continue to grow and flourish as the overall trend of STEM career growth continues. However, it is unknown yet how national policies and programs will affect the general trend of shrinking apprenticeship programs and a greater focus on preparing students for college rather than a career and technical education.

Education Week compiled and analyzed salary data, demands for hiring, and training needs for STEM careers and determined that the following blue-collar STEM jobs are most in-demand: wind turbine service technician, industrial machinery mechanic, automotive service technician, health technologist, home healthcare aid, and computer user support specialist. These careers are projected to increase demand by double digits—in some cases, 40 percent or higher.

Cybersecurity is one of the many areas that provide career pathways.

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