How STEM Jobs Are Ushering In A New Era Of Opportunity In America

Uproxx / Shutterstock

Uproxx knows that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines are driving the future of this planet forward. Every day, we see new ideas, fresh innovations, and bold trailblazers in these fields. Follow us this month as we highlight how STEM is shaping the culture of NOW.

It is a story we hear over and over: A fresh-faced young man comes to one of Silicon Valley’s premiere institutions of learning, usually Stanford. He invents an app in his dorm room. Investors love it, millions download it, it makes billions of dollars, and that fresh-faced young man starts delivering TED talks in a hoodie.

But that narrative is rapidly changing. You won’t find a room dominated by tech bros at CodeTN. The initiative doesn’t care about building the next big flashy application. Instead, students across the state of Tennessee are learning to code, and more importantly learning to apply code creatively, so they can chart a new course in the field of engineering. Or at BitSource, a small Kentucky company that recruits former coal miners and trains them to work in tech.

As we enter the new digital era, success in STEM is not just for that lucky few (and not just for men either). STEM is America’s next great industrial revolution, and it will change everything from the sports we watch to the food we eat to the way doctors fix broken bones.

The Coming STEM Revolution

The Bureau Of Labor Statistics recently broke out STEM as an industry, and the results are attention-grabbing. 93% of STEM jobs in the US had wages above the national average, with an average wage of $87,570 compared to the non-STEM average of $45,700. Between 2009 and 2015, STEM jobs grew at 10%, twice the average of non-STEM employment. Employment in computer-related jobs, by far the biggest sector, is expected to add half a million new jobs by 2024.

Nor do the usual stereotypes hold. While women are underrepresented in some STEM fields, in others they’re the majority, especially in the biotech and medical industries. And the gender gap that does exist is rapidly closing.

STEM is often seen almost entirely in terms of computers, but in truth, STEM has been changing how we live in much more subtle ways for decades. Take, for example, “computer-aided design” or CAD software. It started as a complex tool only engineers could grasp. But STEM workers streamlined the code, upgraded how usable it was, simplified complicated processes, and made CAD accessible to all. Now everything from the device you’re reading this on to the car you drive is designed, built, tested, and retested with CAD before so much as a single part is put in place.

Now imagine that mindset, but scaled up to everything around us. What’s at work, here, is a fundamental change in how we approach the world. Think, for a moment, about your smartphone. You probably use it a dozen times a day for all sorts of different jobs — from getting directions to letting family know you’re going to the store to comparing prices at the store with what you can get online. In economist terms, a smartphone is enhancing your productivity: You’re getting more done for yourself in a better way at a faster rate.

STEM fields are like smartphones: Focused on making people more productive in all sorts of unexpected, unusual ways. For example, in Austin’s thriving tech community, you’ll find the company Sparefoot, which has tackled the job of finding you the perfect storage unit, putting them all in one place and finding you the best deal. In Nashville, STR creates tools for the hotel industry to offer better deals, grasp just who is renting their rooms, and offer better service for travelers. In Raleigh, something as simple as buying an event ticket has been made faster, easier, and cheaper thanks to eTix. Across America, thoughtful entrepreneurs are figuring out how to make our lives simpler and more efficient, so that we can focus on what we really care about.

Where The Cool Jobs Are

The future of STEM promises to change not just what we do with computers, but what we eat to how we play. Ford sees the car of the future as not a string of the same parts bolted together in the same way, but a custom 3D printed experience, built from scratch. The future of America’s favorite game, football, may well lie in the hands of doctors, scientists, and engineers building new ways to stop head trauma. Surfers are using cutting edge technology to redesign how we hit the waves, and pioneering breakthroughs in fluid dynamics while they do so. STEM workers are constructing a future where your coffee will be grown down the block from you in carefully designed robotic greenhouses, roasted and ground before being served to you. Then the used grounds will be taken and turned into biofuel to run the bus you take to work.

The hype around STEM is often centered in California. But the real work being done is across the country, in a multitude of industries, pushing America forward one bold idea at a time. STEM will be the next great American frontier, and it needs all the explorers it can get.