James A. Mitchell

The opportunities for STEM jobs aren’t going away.

In particular, analysts see the largest demand continuing to be the so-called “middle skill” levels in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Addressing that need has relied upon collaborations between industry and educators to provide early and mid-career training.

“With all the job openings in the middle skills, the focal point will be community colleges,” said Stephen Patchin, director of career services at Michigan Technological University.

Middle-skill positions — which require post-high school education but not necessarily a four-year degree — are expected to be featured the highest number of postings, notably in STEM fields. The groundwork, he said, is being laid early for the anticipated boom.

“We’ve seen high schools putting together some comprehensive vocational education programs,” Patchin said.

In southeast Michigan alone, the Workforce Intelligence Network reports STEM occupations experienced very high postings in 2014, including over 52,000 jobs for engineers and designers, 35,000 jobs for skilled trades and technicians, 86,000 jobs in information technology, and 108,000 jobs in health care. In just these fields alone, roughly 1/3 could be considered “middle skilled.” A survey of five Midwestern states in 2013-2014 revealed more than 260,000 STEM postings were made available to just over 100,000 qualified workers; open jobs well eclipsed the number of certified applicants in categories ranging from electrical engineers to machine tool operators.

Specialization will pave the way, Patchin said, with hands-on experience turned into certifications. According to the Harvard Business Review, only 15 percent of college graduates actually major in science, technology, engineering or math. Instead, employer demands have increased for workers both certified and experienced. The recession left many experienced workers in search of a second career, with a need to add new skills to existing resumes through specific courses, certifications, internships or co-ops.

“Companies want skill sets,” Patchin said. “Non-traditional students have an edge on the younger ones. Students know they have to continually upgrade their skills.”

The trend won’t slow down anytime soon, educators said, especially in southeast Michigan’s current building boom.

“We see a high demand in STEM fields,” said Joseph Petrosky, dean of engineering and advanced technology at Macomb Community College. “The employment is up. We have multiple offers for students who are graduating from these programs. These are sustainable jobs and good career pathways.”

Opportunities for advancement in STEM industries are as strong as any field, Petrosky said. Transferable or “stackable” skill sets cast a wide net across sectors that are posting the most growth potential. Manufacturing, automotive and defense contracts are on the rise in Michigan and a worker’s market is emerging.
“We’re all lifelong learners,” Petrosky said. Macomb works with a variety of employers to craft customized courses that provide mid-level, hands-on training and experience. “Technology keeps changing and workers have to keep upping their game.”


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