There are nearly 6,000 unfilled STEM jobs in Idaho, but Angela Hemingway, executive director of the Idaho STEM Action Center, and her staff are working to reduce that number – ideally to zero.
“My end goal is zero, but the STEM Action Center can’t do it alone,” Hemingway said.
The STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Action Center’s mission statement is to create “innovative STEM opportunities for educators, students, communities and industry to build a competitive Idaho workforce and economy.”
Hemingway said Idaho STEM jobs pay extremely well – averaging almost $30 an hour. With 6,000 jobs unfilled, she said it means Idahoans are not collecting more than $240 million each year and the state government is losing out on almost $20 million in tax revenue.
“We really have to do something to try to encourage people to stay in the STEM pipeline,” Hemingway said.
She said the Idaho Department of Labor estimates that from 2016 to 2026, the nation is anticipating a 10.4 percent STEM job growth while Idaho is expected to see an 11.6 percent growth in STEM jobs.
“In the past, we’ve been significantly slower than the nation,” Hemingway said. “So, suddenly, we’ve got these opportunities that are starting to crank up here, and if we can’t get our workforce trained, then our economy is really going to start to feel that drag on it.”
She said businesses will start going elsewhere if Idaho cannot provide the workforce.
“We’ve got to build this right here in Idaho or we’ll continue to be a fly-over state,” Hemingway said.
She said companies know Idaho now has an Action Center that provides STEM opportunities and programs for students.
“We want to become the next business destination,” Hemingway said.
She said the Action Center is working to fill the jobs by providing educators with resources and training to teach STEM courses and projects. She said it is also important that parents, counselors and educators have the ability to talk about these careers with young students. Hemingway said students need to understand there are quality STEM jobs in Idaho and they can receive their training in the Gem State for those careers.
She said the Action Center is working toward a program that would allow teachers to work for a period of time during the summer with a STEM industry so they can get first-hand experiences on the job.
“I’m hopeful that if we can get this pilot project going that teachers will then get a better sense of what’s happening in industry,” Hemingway said.
Reaching out to traditionally underrepresented Idaho populations in STEM – such as students on free and reduced lunches, students from ethnic minority groups, rural students and female students – is also a focus, she said.
Hemingway said a variety of different data show Idaho needs white males to continue to go into STEM jobs, “but some of these gaps would be closed if some of these other populations would consider a STEM career,” Hemingway said.
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