Idaho works to fill 7K open STEM jobs

Education officials told the state Legislature's joint budget committee on Wednesday that 7,000 STEM jobs went unfilled in Idaho last year.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- Thousands of science, technology, engineering and math jobs in Idaho are going unfilled each year in due to a lack of skilled workers, education officials said.

Education officials told the state Legislature's joint budget committee on Wednesday that 7,000 STEM jobs went unfilled in Idaho last year.

The owner of a Coeur d' Alene based drone company has had difficulty filling his highly technical STEM positions. 

"It has been difficult finding them in the area so I have looked else where like in Silicon Valley," said JD Clerage founder X Craft.

Clerage has not hired anyone from Idaho to fill his current software developer and mechanical engineering positions. He was not surprised to find out that 7,000 jobs went unused because of unskilled workers. 

If the jobs were filled, the state could have collected about $24 million in tax revenue generated from the combined annual salary of about $450 million, STEM Action Center Director Angela Hemingway said in the presentation to the committee.

"That represents a huge drag on Idaho's economy," Hemingway said.

"My classes aren't full," said Jeremy Kingma, a mechanical engineering professor at North Idaho College.  

"North Idaho College offers tremendous opportunity for students to advance in a STEM field. We have great instructors, high standards, and at a very economical rate. I wish more people would realize that," shared Kingma. 

He explains that with math for example, is hard to get excited about it without understanding the real world application. 

At the Innovative Collective in Coeur d' Alene there is no shortage of real world STEM application.The building is full of tech companies that are creating the future. 

"Now Idaho is waking up to the fact that STEM does tie into everything and starting to do a good job of catching back up," said Nick Smoot, the founder of the building. 

He calls the Innovative Collective the American Dream Factory, not only for tech companies but for everybody.

"If you are a fifth grader and want to learn how to make robots you can walk into the Innovation Den and find people who can help you," said Smoot. 

he number of unfilled jobs could increase to 36,000 by 2024 based on current graduation rates, Hemingway said. The unfilled jobs represent positions that require some level of education beyond high school in the STEM fields.

The state Department of Labor has projected a shortfall of 49,000 workers by 2024 with most being skilled jobs, said Dwight Johnson, administrator of the state Division of Career and Technical Education. About 15,000 to 20,000 of these jobs could be filled by people who have some higher education but less than a four-year degree, he said.

Republican Gov. Butch Otter's budget proposal for the 2019 fiscal year seeks increases for the action center and the division to address the issue.

The budget recommends $2 million for the action center's computer science initiative, which funds STEM education projects like public school teacher development, school computer science activities and regional STEM fairs.

The 2019 budget for the division includes nearly $1 million to expand higher level training opportunities for jobs in high demand.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

© 2018 Associated Press


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