The U.S. job market is still struggling to recover, but no group has been hit harder than young people and recent college graduates, with about 1 in 2 recent graduates jobless or underemployed. Despite high unemployment, there are more than 3.6 million jobs open according to the Labor Department, with millions more on the horizon. One of the biggest reasons for this disparity is the gap in STEM talent.

STEM (which stands for science, technology, engineering and math) jobs grew at three times the rate of other fields from 2000-2010, and the projected demand is expected to increase by nearly 17 percent. However, even with all this growth filling those jobs with American workers will be a difficult challenge, as fewer than 1 in 5 math-proficient positions are interested in STEM jobs and 43 percent of STEM graduates choose not to work in the field. So how can you help bridge the STEM talent gap, and why is it worth it?

Why Are STEM Jobs So Great?

  • The annual STEM employee income is nearly $78,000, far outstripping the average U.S. income of $43,460. More than 47 percent of workers with a STEM bachelor degree earns more than a PhD in another occupation.
  • STEM positions are often in the most innovative fields and for some of the most progressive companies.
  • STEM jobs aren’t all behind a computer screen. STEM careers can be found in everything from animal breeding and dietitians to geneticists and astronauts.
  • Technology jobs are often insulated from unemployment woes. While national unemployment remains above 8 percent, tech unemployment is about half that at 4.4 percent.
  • From 2009-2011, the growth of self-employed STEM workers (3.1 percent) was more than 5 times greater than overall self-employment, meaning greater employment freedom.
  • STEM positions currently account for about 7.3 million jobs, but that number is expected to grow by more than 1 million jobs by 2020.

Education Misconception

The education requirements for STEM positions range from everything a high school diploma and on-the-job training for electricians all the way to a PhD for engineering managers, but there is vast need across all fields. Skilled trades like electricians are facing a drastic shortage of qualified employees and an aging workforce, meaning there is a lot of room for growth. While more than 90 percent of these jobs require some education after high school, 35 percent of the STEM workforce will have less than a bachelor’s degree by 2018. The bottom line is that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to find a high-wage, high-tech job.

Go Where The Jobs Are

There are about 100 jobs listed as STEM occupations, but strong demand for information technology jobs is fueling the current growth of STEM jobs (8 of the 10 fastest growing careers are computer or IT related). The rise of internet companies, app developers, nanotechnology, green energy and cybersecurity are contributing to STEM job growth, but more traditional careers have a rising need for young talent as well. More than 50 percent of all Civil, Mechanical and Industrial engineers are over the age of 45, meaning that there will be a huge need for skilled engineers in years to come.

Contact a Staffing Agency

Finding talented employees is one of the most time-consuming and resource-intensive processes that many companies must do. For many technical positions, companies are simply unequipped or too busy to navigate the global marketplace for STEM talent. Staffing firms take the headache of candidate searches away from business and make it easy to put your resume in front of jobs that you are fully qualified for. For technical positions like network security jobs, choose a recruiter like Kforce that focuses on hiring solutions for information technology companies.

Know Your Options

You don’t have to pursue a career as a doctor or an astronaut to have a positive impact on America’s STEM job market. And, finding a tech job doesn’t mean that you need to work for a tech giant in Redmond or Silicon Valley. Nearly every small business in America needs IT infrastructure support, data analysts. Construction firms will always need skilled contractors and engineers to plan the next generation of American infrastructure. The national parks will always need game wardens and rangers with a biology background. Focus on your passions and learn what job you can find to build around your passion.