Jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — are the jobs of today and tomorrow for our country and for Oklahoma.
To flourish, our state's bioscience companies need access to an educated, skilled workforce as much as they need access to capital.
Although Oklahoma jobs in the industry pay well — more than $7,700 above the average wage — they require a quality STEM education that leads to credentials ranging from associate degrees to doctorates.
The U.S. Department of Commerce calls the STEM workforce “the driver of our nation's innovation and competitiveness.” But how do we meet our industries' growing STEM employment needs?
In her 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin noted that one way to strengthen the state's overall workforce is to emphasize STEM in all levels of public education. “STEM jobs are now growing at a rate that is three times faster than non-STEM jobs, making an emphasis on these technical skills more important than ever,” she said.
Parents who want well-paying jobs for their children when they graduate, take note: “For the jobs being created in the next decade,” says Deidre Myers, director of policy, research and economic analysis at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, “80 percent of our workforce will need a postsecondary degree or certificate. More than half of those critical occupations will be based on STEM.
“For Oklahoma to not only maintain but accelerate our current growth, STEM education is vital to our future.”
To help ensure that future, Fallin established the Governor's Science and Technology Council. The council recommended these goals for 2020:
•Create 53,000 science and engineering jobs
•Reach 160,000 total employment in high-technology establishments
•Produce $2.2 billion in annual research and development
•Generate $7.2 billion in annual science and technology commercial business industry
•Raise to $135,000 the level of science/technology economic productivity per science and engineering job.
“Never have science and math education been more important for our state,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Technology Stephen McKeever, who chairs the council and also serves as vice president for Research and Technology Transfer at Oklahoma State University. “Oklahoma's science and technology industry, a great example of which is the growing biosciences sector, needs an educated and skilled workforce. Rigorous STEM education at K-12 and college is essential for the state's economic future.”
Should we achieve the goals recommended by the Science & Technology Council, the estimated economic impact to the state is more than $4 billion. But to reach those goals, we must continue to nurture the cornerstones of growth. Paramount among those cornerstones is quality STEM education.
Sheri Stickley is president and CEO of the Oklahoma Bioscience Association, www.okbio.org