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St. Louis Employers Seeking STEM Talent

Last month’s State of St. Louis Workforce report examined St. Louis’ economy and labor market, and the local demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics talent.

“Although the economy continues to recover, and we’ve recovered both nationally and locally in terms of our unemployment rates and by a number of other measures of job openings to unemployed individuals, there still are some underlying issues or skill gaps in the economy,” said Steve Long, associate vice chancellor of St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group. “Employers are increasingly in need of skilled workers, and there’s a shortage of skilled workers.”

Since 2009, Workforce Solutions has conducted an annual survey of St. Louis area employers. Each year, they are asked what conditions are keeping their businesses from expanding.  

“Since the beginning, there have been three primary reasons: One has been economic conditions, which you can certainly expect; the other is government policy and regulation, and there has been all kinds of discussion over the last few years about government policies that inhibit expansion; third is the shortage of workers with knowledge and skills,” Long told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Wednesday.

Recently, the lack of skills has moved to the No. 2 position, Long said.

“Employers are still finding gaps, and they are still finding gaps in terms of the soft skills, but they’re also finding gaps in terms of shortages in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Long said “soft” skills include communication, critical thinking, problem solving and work ethic.

“This year we tried to focus on employers that were employing more folks in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics area, and when we did that we sort of expected that some of those communications and soft skills — critical thinking and problem solving — would be seen to a lesser extent than in the greater workforce. Well, slightly maybe, but only very slightly less.

“Over 50 percent of employers, even with these higher skilled positions, were citing critical thinking, problem solving, communications, teamwork — all of those kind of things as lacking.”

St. Louis’ Job Market

In St. Louis, most of the STEM jobs are information technology related — telecommunications, transportation, manufacturing and data processing, Long said. “Eight of the top 10 job advertisements in the STEM area are all IT kinds of jobs. St. Louis is an IT concentration.”

When employers can’t find qualified candidates locally, they try to recruit from other areas. “It’s a big recruiting problem in terms of bringing talent here,” Long said.

“When we looked at all measures of growth, STEM occupations in St. Louis grow at a faster rate than non-STEM occupations — 13 percent to 8 percent,” he said. “In St. Louis alone, the STEM wage differential is 79 percent in terms of the median income of a STEM job versus a non-STEM job.”

The State Of St. Louis Workforce Report

This year’s report focused on STEM jobs and the projected growth of STEM occupations. In St. Louis, STEM occupations are expected to grow 12.4 percent; the average STEM occupation salary is $79,290 per year. 

“The report is a report to the community, but also is a report to (St. Louis) Community College to help us guide what we do,” Long said. “We’re going to work with our K-12 partners and career pathways to really engage students with science and technology.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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