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Bob Sommers - STEM Skills Start Early

Employees without bachelor's degrees hold half of all high-tech jobs in STEM-related fields.
Bob Sommers - STEM Skills Start Early

Bob Sommers - STEM Skills Start Early

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USA Today – STEM Jobs


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Show 1337: Bob Sommers - STEM Skills Start Early
Air Date: September 15, 2013



Rob McClendon: Well, when people think of high-tech jobs, they typically think of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Ivy League Ph.D.s. But according to a new definition of STEM jobs, those requiring skills in science, technology, engineering or math, half of all high-tech positions are held by employees without a bachelor's degree. Joining me now is Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education and the Director of Oklahoma CareerTech Dr. Bob Sommers. So give us a little bit of background. The numbers we are talking about come from a study by the Brookings institute.

Bob Sommers: Yes, Brookings took a look at the actual jobs that were out there and which ones really require a lot of science, technology, engineering and math. And what they found is the initial studies had narrowly defined STEM to about 5 percent of the workforce, which about 75 percent of those require a bachelor’s degree or higher. They broadened it slightly and said all those high-tech careers that require a lot of science and math and engineering actually accounted for 20 percent of the workforce, a significant part of the workforce. And when we define it in those terms, about 40-45 percent of the jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher. The vast majority of those jobs are actually with industry credentials, associate degrees and a few with high school diplomas.

Rob: So what does that tell you in terms of Oklahoma’s educational outcomes? What do we need to be thinking about?

Sommers: Well, we first of all need to double down on what we’re already doing. We’re ramping up math and science in the high schools. We’re adding technology and engineering through Project Lead The Way and a lot of other initiatives that will expose young people to the entire STEM concept. We have CareerTech that’s delivering industry credentials while you’re still in high school, but also as adults. And we’ve got a great community college system and higher ed system to finish out the process.

Rob: Now, I think it’s probably important to point out though that this isn’t an either-or proposition. We’re not talking just bachelor degrees or just industry credentials.

Sommers: That’s correct. In fact, a Georgetown study in reviewing the economic productivity of adults found that if you have an industry credential first and then you earn an associate or bachelor’s degree, you actually make more money than those folks that went straight to an associate degree or bachelor’s degree. So this is great news. If I’m in high school or I’m recently graduated from high school, go to CareerTech, earn an industry credential, get a good paying job, I immediately become productive, I can take care of myself. I can earn enough money to pay for college without going into debt, and when I’m all done with the entire series, I’m making more money than the people that just ignored the industry credential and went straight to higher ed.

Rob: Now, one of the things we kept on hearing at the STEM conference, and it’s almost a recurring theme, is that we need to have more investment in STEM. Does that mean reinvestment in what we’re doing or does it mean investment into something new?

Sommers: I think it’s probably more of a readjustment of resources. We need first of all to begin with young people and expose them to all the career options including STEM so that they pick their passion or purpose in life and are excited about it. That starts in the early grades. Make a much better job, and if you’ll remember at the STEM conference, they talked about needing to get people excited earlier in their education. So we excite kids. We have them get excited about career options, and then we move them through high school, we expect more of them in the high school. So that’s not a new investment as much as it is really making good use of the existing investment. And then the big thing is if I’ve got industry credential, I’m a taxpaying citizen instead of a reliant person that’s not generating taxes, and then I can move on to higher ed. We need to invest at all levels of that educational experience. But we can get more out of each level. We can get more done. And it goes back to the both-and -- college prep and technical at the same time. I have more choices coming out of high school, I have more likelihood of continuing my career and my education, and I make more money. The state of Oklahoma is better off.

Rob: All right. Thank you so much, Secretary Sommers. Now, if you would like to see the complete list of the STEM jobs that do require a certification, but not a degree, we do have a link to that list on our website that details both the demand and the pay for these jobs. Just go to