Valley must develop a strategy for increasing STEM workers

Just days after this region rode high with the announcement of a $440 million gift from Siemens Corp. to Youngstown State University’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics comes a downer of a study about the region’s workforce.

According to the Brookings Institution, Mahoning, Trumbull and Mercer (Pa.) counties lack the high- level STEM workers needed to drive economic growth within a community.

Ironically, the Brookings study ranked the Youngstown market No. 1 nationally in the percentage of STEM jobs held by workers with associate degrees or less.

Unfortunately, the low-level workers aren’t the ones creating new products, which spur economic growth.

Dr. Martin Abraham, director of YSU STEM, who will oversee the use of $440 million worth of computer software related to America’s next industrial revolution — additive manufacturing — hit the nail on the head with this comment:

“We don’t have any corporate headquarters here where they’d be doing a lot of research. There are a lot of companies that make things where they would need people with associate degrees and not bachelor’s.”

Abraham noted, for instance, that General Motors’ assembly plant in Lordstown has 4,500 workers, of which about 100 have four-year engineering degrees.

Abraham and others on the campus of YSU have talked about the need for the four-year institution to build up its research program. Having one of the world’s leading electronic and electrical engineering corporations making such a significant commitment to YSU will certainly go a long way toward achieving the research goal.

Meanwhile, YSU, the business establishment represented by the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, and governments at the local, state and national levels must develop a strategy for increasing the number of high-level STEM workers in the Youngstown market.

According to data from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area had the following positions that needed to be filled in 2011: 2,880 in computers; 7,100 in math; 16,450 in science; 16,740 in engineering.

Those jobs require skills in science, technology, engineering and math. Some of them require knowledge in multiple areas.

This region is not without the tools to develop high-level STEM workers: There are the university and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which is doing cutting-edge 3-D printing research.

Low rankiing

The Brookings study shows 32,570 jobs classified as STEM positions, giving the area a ranking of 94th nationally in the total number of STEM positions.

The median salary for a high-level STEM worker is $56,069, compared with $32,413 for all other positions.

That is why Brookings talks about the need for a community to have an economic driver.

One of the challenges the region faces is the exodus of educated workers to Cleveland, Pittsburgh or Akron.

How do you persuade them to stay? By meeting their employment needs.

Therein lies the challenge.

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