Florida struggles to compete on STEM jobs front

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Florida’s Space Coast ranks third in the nation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs, according to a study just released by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, while South Florida ranks 81st in the nation — a ranking “not all that impressive” according to the South Florida Business Journal, considering the region’s size and resources.

Florida has invested attention to STEM programs in K-12 and higher education, understanding that areas with STEM workforce bases have stronger economies; and this assumption was substantiated by the Brookings report, which showed that top STEM metro areas fare better in terms of employment, income, and patent registration.  

The top ranked metro area was Silicon Valley, with 33 percent of jobs in STEM, followed by DC, at 27.  Florida’s Space Coast, also at 27 percent of jobs, actually ranks second in the nation in terms of jobs requiring “super” high-level STEM knowledge (16 percent).  Keep in mind, however, that data for this study were gathered in 2011, prior to the end of the shuttle program. 

Perhaps most interestingly, the Brookings report argued convincingly that while previous STEM studies have focused exclusively on white-collar jobs, sub-Bachelor’s level jobs “represent a hidden and unheralded STEM economy.”

Sub-bachelor STEM jobs — such as registered nurses, auto techs, electricians, and machinists — bring in about 10 percent more income than non-STEM jobs with similar educational requirements, and make up about 50 percent of total STEM jobs in the nation.  

Unfortunately for Florida, the state shows up more on the Bottom 10 list than the top: Lakeland-Winter Haven, South Florida, and Cape Coral-Fort Myers are among the nation’s 10 large metro areas with the lowest STEM score.

Among the 100 largest metro areas, Orlando comes in at 86th in the nation, South Florida at 81st, Tampa at 66th, and Jacksonville at 64th.

Ranked as a state, Florida comes in at 45th in the nation for the percent of STEM jobs, and 41st in the nation for “super” STEM jobs, not impressive for the 4th largest state.  Gov. Rick Scott proposed to lower tuition for STEM students with this goal in mind. Perhaps this proposal — or ones like it — deserve another look.