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MTSU survey: Tennessee’s STEM workforce falling short in size, skills

An inaugural assessment by MTSU’s Business and Economic Research Center concludes that moving Tennessee’s STEM employment concentration to the national level would create an economic impact of nearly $4.5 billion and create an additional 16,000 new jobs in the economy.

Under a partnership with the Mind2Marketplace organization and the MTSU Tennessee Small Business Development Lead Center, the BERC conducted a survey to assess the most pressing challenges and opportunities in STEM fields across Tennessee. STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A survey of businesses, mayors, local economic development officials, and school principals suggests that Tennessee faces significant challenges in the STEM workforce supply, pipeline and infrastructure, the report states.

A long and short version of the full report, as well as a two-page summary, are available at www.mtsu.edu/berc/research.php.

Dr. Murat Arik

Dr. Murat Arik

MTSU BERC logo“The critical takeaway from this study is that Tennessee has significant opportunities to grow by creating synergies among business communities, higher education institutions and the policy makers on STEM workforce issues,” said BERC Director Murat Arik.

“As a research center, we will continue building on this inaugural study by tracking Tennessee’s STEM dynamics annually.”

Among the BERC’s key findings is that Tennessee faces an employment and skills gap in STEM areas. As of 2013, the size of the STEM workforce in Tennessee was an estimated 324,328, but the report characterized that workforce as “an oversupply of a low-skilled STEM workforce relative to the U.S. average.” An additional 16,000 jobs could be created by upgrading the STEM skill set of the current workforce.

The report states that 11.8 percent of Tennessee’s jobs are STEM-related, compared to 13.1 percent for the entire country and 15.9 percent for the state of Massachusetts. And while Tennessee can produce roughly 11,000 STEM-degreed workers each year on average, the demand for such workers will be roughly 19,000.

The chart shows some of the results from the MTSU Business and Economic Research Center's 2015 STEM Workforce Survey.

The chart shows some of the results from the MTSU Business and Economic Research Center’s 2015 STEM Workforce Survey.

Among the challenges in developing an adequate STEM workforce is a “perceived lack of rigor in Tennessee’s K12 education system,” as well as a lack of knowledge about programs, lack of interest and ability, and a lack of emphasis on the necessity of difficult subjects in the educational system, the report states.

To catch up with the rest of the United States in the relative share of the STEM workforce, 36,000 new STEM jobs are needed in Tennessee, the report states, adding that creating these new jobs and addressing skills issues would generate an economic impact of nearly $4.5 billion.

The stakeholders recommend that the government assist in boosting Tennessee’s STEM concentration by connecting educational institutions with workforce needs and aligning and coordinating STEM resources across the state.

The Tennessee Small Business Development Center will continue to provide funding support to BERC to update the benchmark STEM workforce study. The data each year will be used for comparative analysis on the state’s progress in increasing its STEM skilled workforce.

— Jimmy Hart (jimmy.hart@mtsu.edu)

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