Washington State’s economy is booming, producing great jobs that offer competitive salaries in world-class technology, aerospace, clean-energy, and biomedical companies. But a serious problem is lurking behind the boom: a leak in the pipeline for employees to fill the state’s most valuable jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math—collectively known as STEM.
In Great Jobs Within Our Reach, a 2013 joint report by The Boston Consulting Group and the Washington Roundtable, we calculated that, even after importing highly educated workers from out of state and abroad, Washington was missing out on an opportunity to fill as many as 25,000 high-skill jobs—a number that could double by 2017.
Now we estimate that only 9 out of 100 children born in Washington will ultimately end up as employees in a STEM-related field in the state—far fewer than the number of people needed to fill Washington jobs requiring STEM-related skills. (See “The Facts About the STEM Employee Pipeline in Washington State.”) The situation is worse for low-income students, who are two to three times less academically prepared for the STEM workforce than their more affluent peers. Currently, only 40 percent of high school students in Washington graduate with competency in STEM topics. These skills are critical for the state’s citizens, regardless of whether they end up in STEM-related fields.
Creating more STEM jobs would not only boost Washington’s economy, it would also reduce poverty and unemployment, help all Washington families prosper, and create a better-prepared workforce. If Washington can match the practices of high-performing states, such as California and Massachusetts, it could double or triple the number of STEM jobs in the state as well as expand the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in the STEM workforce.
Right now, Washington State can fix the leaks in its STEM employee pipeline and be rewarded with an economic return equal to seven times its investment. The move could generate $4.5 billion in additional tax revenues and social-spending savings per year—a significant return on the $650 million investment needed. Even better, Washingtonians could take home $12.6 billion in additional salaries. What’s more, the state could lift nearly 100,000 people out of poverty and into the middle class.
STEM fields hold the jobs of tomorrow—and Washingtonians need to be ready to seize them.