The numbers so far are impressive: More than 200 new jobs, nearly 12,000 hours of training and more than 1,200 youth coached in essential careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
For John Beauregard, these numbers tell an important story about a nearly three-year-old innovative program designed to boost training, education and careers in the so-called "STEM" occupations.
Beauregard, the executive director of the Franklin-based Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, says the CT STEM Jobs initiative - first started in August 2009 - has reached thousands of students, youths and displaced and dislocated workers across Connecticut. "This is the outcome of conversations we had with area employers," explains Beauregard, whose agency is the lead organization in the CT STEM Jobs program. "Employers came in and shared what was important to them," he says, "and it was pretty clear that it was to invest in those areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that could help to stimulate this economy."
CT STEM Jobs is a project of the state's workforce development council, which is made up of the five workforce investment boards around the state, including Beauregard's eastern Connecticut agency. The program is funded by the federal Department of Labor, along with a host of partners, ranging from the Hartford-based Connecticut Business & Industry Association to the state's regional chambers, including the eastern Connecticut chamber, and a number of state agencies, including education and economic and community development.
Beauregard says the program, which will end this June, was supposed to close out at the end of this month. But this past November the federal labor department approved an extension. That additional time allows the CT STEM Jobs program to continue to offer two of its most valuable components, says Beauregard: five STEM coaches employed at each of Connecticut's five workforce boards as well as the program's website portal at www.ctstemjobs.org. The coaches recruit, assess and advise participants in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related careers, and the website offers educational, training and various career resources, including online courses.
Among the CT STEM Jobs accomplishments so far since its inauguration in the summer of 2009:
• Two hundred seventeen of its clients have been placed in jobs, despite a tough economic climate.
• Three hundred sixty four clients have spent 11,500 training hours online and completed 3,170 courses.
• Nearly 1,200 youth and adults have used CT STEM coaches across the state for guidance, counseling and mentoring purposes.
• Seven hundred ten clients completed the online education and career blueprint program to map out both short- and long-term STEM goals.
• More than 13,000 have visited the program's website at www.ctstemjobs.org.
Beauregard says that when federal funding for the CT STEM Jobs project ends in June, he hopes the state's five workforce investment boards and their partners will identify other financing sources, including grants and funding from corporate stakeholders, to continue this important initiative.
"The sustainability of this program is really important," he adds.
Jobs in the sciences, along with technology, engineering and mathematics, are essential to maintaining this nation's overall competitiveness in the years ahead. But not enough of the U.S. work force is being trained and educated for these important careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 18 fastest-growing occupations require science, technology, engineering or mathematics-related skills, and it's estimated that such workers earn 70 percent more than the national average, based on the bureau's statistics.
The federal Economics and Statistics Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, says that in 2010, there were 7.6 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers in this country - just one out of 18 workers. Yet from 2008 through 2018, projections show such careers growing by a healthy 17 percent, compared to less than 10 percent growth for occupations outside of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The government agency also says those who hold degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics will benefit from higher earnings than those without such degrees.
Even those who hold a high-school diploma or less benefit from the various STEM occupations, with an average hourly wage of $24.82 compared to a non-STEM wage of $15.55 - a nearly 60 percent differential. The federal statistics also show those with science, technology, engineering and mathematics occupations tend to experience lower unemployment rates than those in other fields.
Beauregard points out that STEM careers extend far beyond the stereotyped "lab coat" fields.
These jobs can range from information technology and engineering to advanced manufacturing and energy. Demand for engineers, for example, is increasing at three times the rate of other professions, yet only 15 percent of U.S. college graduates are attaining degrees in engineering or the natural sciences - in China the rate is estimated to be 50 percent.
Says Beauregard, "Preparing our youth and adults for new careers in STEM-related fields is absolutely crucial to Connecticut's overall economic competitiveness in the years ahead."