What Are STEM Jobs and Which Ones Are the Best?

Are you wondering what STEM jobs are? The sudden appearance of the STEM concept has made most people curious. Schools have been adding STEM to their curriculums. Libraries have started to created programs around STEM. Even toy manufacturers are mentioning if their products are “STEM Aligned.”

What are STEM Jobs? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), STEM jobs are jobs where workers use their science, technology, engineering, or math knowledge to attempt to solve problems or understand how the world works. The demand for STEM-skilled workers is currently high and continues to rise with technology.

Now, this does not mean that all STEM jobs are equal. STEM jobs have a higher average starting salary in general. But, pay along with demand can vary from job to job.

STEM Job Fields

Science

Science is a way to make sense of the world. Science workers study the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation. They can also provide information for public policy, such as providing data to limit the use of road salt.

Science work usually involves presenting the findings of research. Science technicians assist scientists by collecting samples, conducting experiments, and other tasks.

The scientific method is relied on to test theories and hypotheses. It requires experiments that are repeated to obtain observable data. When the data matches the theory’s predictions, the experiment supports the theory. Theories with most support may be used or continued to be tested.

The part of the universe determines the category of its study: physics, chemistry, life sciences, earth sciences, and space sciences. For example, physics studies the motion and behavior of matter through space and time; disciplines include nuclear physics, condensed matter physics, and astrophysics.

Technology

Technology workers create and troubleshoot computer systems using science and engineering. For example, some build and maintain computer networks while others develop software applications.

The work of technology advances different types of communication, such as mobile browsing, video sharing, and business transactions. It also makes it faster and less expensive.

Technology workers design, test, maintain, and improve computer hardware, software, networks, and systems. They not only try to solve problems but also try to make those problems easier to solve in the future.

Engineering

Engineering workers solve real-world problems using science, technology, and math. Engineers develop materials, products, structures, and systems. For example, a civil engineer might design a bridge to allow cars to go over a river, and an agricultural engineer might help create agricultural machinery.

Without engineering, we wouldn’t be living in the kind of world we do now. Vacuums, bridges, and cars are examples of what engineering has made it possible to make things cheaper and better for society. Categorizing engineering disciplines are based on industry, such as textiles, petroleum, or aerospace. This includes materials, electrical, industrial, mechanical, and civil engineering.

Mathematics

Math workers study and solve problems using logical, spatial, and numerical relationships. For example, an actuary helps businesses measure and manage risks, and a statistician might use statistics and data analysis to help government agencies.

Math is the foundation of STEM. Its work usually involves finding patterns in abstract logic or data. Conclusions are drawn from these patterns to model the real world and to test mathematical relationships. Disciplines include geometry, game theory, calculus, statistics, and algebra.

What Are Some STEM Jobs?

In May 2015, the number of STEM jobs in the U.S. was 8.6 million. This represented 6.2 percent of employment in the U.S. About 45 percent of STEM employment came from computer occupations, and 19 percent came from engineers. Combining cartographers, surveyors, architects, and mathematical science occupations made up under 4 percent of STEM employment.

  • Computer and information research scientists – Computer and information scientists create new approaches to computing technology and discover new uses for technology that already exists. Some computer and information research scientists work more than 40 hours per week — most work full time. A master’s degree in computer science or a related field is required for most computer and information research scientist jobs. A bachelor’s degree may be enough to acquire some federal government jobs. In May 2018, Computer and information research scientists had a median annual wage of $118,370. The growth of the employment of computer and information research scientists is expected to be 16 percent from 2018 to 2028. Many companies have reported having a hard time finding these highly skilled workers, so computer scientists have a high chance of obtaining excellent job prospects.
  • Aerospace engineers – Aerospace engineers design missiles, satellites, spacecrafts, and aircrafts. They are primarily employed in research and development, analysis and design, and manufacturing by national defense or spacecraft industries. A bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or another field of engineering is required for most aerospace engineers. Those who work within national defense usually require security clearance. In May 2018, aerospace engineers had a median annual wage of $115,220. The growth in the employment of aerospace engineers is expected to be 2 percent from 2018 to 2028. This is slower than the average for all occupations.
  • Postsecondary Architecture teachers – Postsecondary architecture teachers instruct architecture students after the high school level. Most postsecondary teachers work in junior or community colleges, professional schools, and public and private colleges and universities. Their schedules are generally flexible outside of class time. That time may be spent conducting research or advising students. The type of educational institution determines educational requirements. Most postsecondary architecture teachers working at 4-year colleges and universities must have a Ph. D. However, a master’s degree may be sufficient for some postsecondary architecture teachers at community colleges.
  • Sales engineers – Sales engineers sell businesses complex technological and scientific products. Their income and job security usually depend on commissions from completing sales, making their job stressful. To meet sales goals, some sales engineers may work additional hours. A bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field is usually required. Strong interpersonal skills and knowledge of the services and products they are selling help sales engineers become successful. In May 2018, sales engineers had a median annual wage of $101,420. The projection of growth of employment for sales engineers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028. This is the average for all occupations. Sales engineers will be in demand to sell a broader range of technology as they come on the market.
  • Civil engineers – Civil engineers plan, design, construct, maintain, and operate infrastructure projects and systems. They usually work in various locations and conditions. They often split their time between the office and on-site to monitor operations of solve problems. A bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or one of its specialties is required to become a civil engineer. Promotions to senior positions usually require a graduate degree and licensure. Civil engineers typically have to be licensed if they serve the public. In May 2018, the median annual wage was $86,640 for civil engineers. The projected growth of employment of civil engineers is expected to be 6 percent from 2018 to 2028. This is about average for all occupations. Civil engineers will be needed to work on rebuilding, repairing, and upgrading buildings, airports, dams, levees, roads, bridges, and all types of structures as they age.
  • Agricultural and Food scientists – Agricultural and food scientists improve agricultural products and establish safety and efficiency through research. They work in offices, labs, and in the field. A bachelor’s degree is required to become an agricultural and food scientist, but many obtain advanced degrees. In May 2018, agricultural and food scientists had a median annual wage of $64,020. The projected growth of the overall employment of agricultural and food scientists is expected to be 7 percent from 2018 to 2028. This is faster than the average (6 percent) for all occupations. Increasing research into agricultural production techniques and methods will increase the employment of agricultural and food scientists.
  • Zoologists and wildlife biologists – Zoologists and wildlife biologists study the animal kingdom and their interaction with their ecosystem. They work outdoors, in labs, and offices. Some jobs may spend time studying animals in their natural habitats and gathering data in the field. A bachelor’s degree is needed for entry-level zoologist and wildlife biologist positions, while a master’s degree is usually needed for higher-level scientific or investigative work. For most university research positions and to lead independent research, a Ph.D. is necessary. In May 2018, zoologists and wildlife biologists had an annual wage of $63,420. The growth of the employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is projected to be 5 percent from 2018 to 2028. This is about the average for all occupations. The growth of the human population and development impacting wildlife and their natural habitats will cause more zoologists and wildlife biologists to be needed. But, budgetary constraints of employing governmental agencies may limit their demand.

What STEM Jobs Are In Demand?

The most common STEM occupation is software developer. The computer and engineering occupations employ 80 percent of STEM workers.

Census Bureau report that looked at the educational background of STEM workers reported that 7.2 million people were employed in STEM occupations in 2011. This was 6 percent of the U.S. workforce. Occupations related to STEM had 7.8 million workers.

The size of the STEM workforce allows us to see how it has changed over time. Between 1970 and 2011, it has risen from 4 percent to 6 percent. Until the 1990s, engineering employed the most STEM workers. The increase in employment tied to the growth of the Internet and daily use computers made computer occupations exceed engineering. Computer workers currently make up half of STEM employment, while engineers comprise about a third of the STEM workforce.

The mathematical science occupations group is the STEM group that is projected to grow fastest from 2014 to 2024 at 28.2 percent. This is high compared to the 6.5 average projected growth for all occupations in that same period. Occupations in this group include statisticians and mathematicians. In 2014, this group was reported to have the lowest employment compared to other STEM groups so the new job growth will only be about 42,900.

Mapping technicians, engineering technicians, and drafters is the only STEM group that is projected to show little or no change. This group has a projected decline of about 9,600 jobs, which is 1.4 percent.

The projected increase in employment in computer occupations from 2014 to 2024 is 12.5 percent. Its large employment size causes this. The result of this growth is about half a million new jobs, which is a lot more than any other STEM group.

Engineering is the group that is projected to add the second largest number of new jobs from 2014 to 2024, with 65,000 new jobs.

What Are the Highest Paying STEM Jobs?

There is a wide range of wages for STEM occupations. The national average wage for all STEM occupations in May 2015 was $87,570. In May of 2018, that number grew to $93,070. This was almost double the number for all non-STEM occupations, which was $51,960.

In May of 2015, ninety-three percent of all STEM occupations had wages way above the $48,320 national average for all occupations. The highest-paid STEM occupation is petroleum engineers at $149,590. In May of 2018, petroleum engineers had an annual mean wage of $156,370. That is over $100,000 higher than the national average for all occupations.

STEM occupations that have annual mean wages near or below the national average include biological technicians (reported at $48,060 in 2018) and forest and conservation technicians (reported at $40,110 in 2018).

Computer and Information Systems Managers – $152,860/yr

In May 2018, the annual mean wage for computer and information systems managers was $152,860. The highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $85,380.

The median wage is the wage where half the occupation’s workers earn more than that amount, and half earn less. The following shows the median annual wages for computer and information systems managers in the top industries:

Information $157,810
Finance and insurance $148,620
Computer systems design and related services $148,540
Management of companies and enterprises $145,160
Manufacturing $143,910

Architectural and Engineering Managers – $148,970/yr

In May 2018, the annual mean wage of architectural and engineering managers was $148,970. The highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $89,620.

The following shows the median annual wages for architectural and engineering managers in the top industries:

Scientific research and development services $162,880
Management of companies and enterprises $148,210
Manufacturing $140,200
Architectural, engineering, and related services $138,380
Government $130,590

Petroleum Engineers – $156,370/yr

In May 2018, the annual mean wage of petroleum engineers was $156,370. The highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $74,270.

The following shows the median annual wages for petroleum engineers in the top industries:

Management of companies and enterprises $172,570
Oil and gas extraction $141,170
Petroleum and coal products manufacturing $127,280
Engineering services $126,910
Support activities for mining $113,350

Natural Sciences Managers – $139,680/yr

In May 2018, the annual mean wage of natural sciences managers was $139,680. The highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $65,000.

The following shows the median annual wages for natural sciences managers in the top industries:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences $154,460
Manufacturing $143,050
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services $119,800
Federal government, excluding postal service $117,240
State government, excluding education and hospitals $80,450

What Are the Best STEM Jobs?

When looking for the best STEM jobs, we shouldn’t just look at current statistics. As we have seen in the past, occupations can change over time. With that, overall demand and salary can change as well.

Choosing the best STEM job to go after is like selecting the best stock to invest in. You have to study reports and the industry before going in.

Some of the best STEM jobs include Information Security Analyst, Mathematician and Statistician, Actuary, and Software Developer. This is based on projected job growth and salary found in reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Information security analysts

Overview: Information Security Analysts

2018 Median Pay $98,350 per year

$47.28 per hour

Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation Less than 5 years
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2018 112,300
Job Outlook, 2018-28 32% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2018-28 35,500

Information security analysts protect an organization’s computer networks by planning and carrying out security measures. Most security analysts work for business and financial companies, consulting firms, or computer companies. A bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field is required for most positions. Employers usually prefer analysts with experience in a related occupation. In May 2018, the median annual wage was $98,350. The projected growth of employment from 2018 to 2028 is 32 percent. There is a high expected demand for security analysts because they will be needed to prevent hackers from stealing information from computer networks.

Mathematicians and Statisticians

Overview: Mathematicians and Statisticians

2018 Median Pay $88,190 per year

$42.40 per hour

Typical Entry-Level Education Master’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2018 47,300
Job Outlook, 2018-28 30% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2018-28 14,400

Mathematicians and statisticians help solve problems by analyzing data and applying mathematical and statistical techniques. Many work in private engineering and science research companies and in the federal government. A master’s degree in mathematics or statistics is usually required, but some positions are available to bachelor’s degree holders. In May 2018, the median annual wage for mathematicians and statisticians was $101,900 and $87,780, respectively. The projected growth of the overall employment of mathematicians and statisticians from 2018 to 2028 is 30 percent. Their demand will increase because of the increasing volume of digital data that will need to be analyzed by companies.

Actuaries

Overview: Actuaries

2018 Median Pay $102,880 per year

$49.46 per hour

Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Long-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2018 25,000
Job Outlook, 2018-28 20% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2018-28 5,000

Actuaries analyze the financial costs of risks by using math, statistics, and monetary theory. Most work in an office, but some will have to travel to meet with consultants. To become a certified professional, a bachelor’s degree, and passing a series of exams is required. A strong background in mathematics, statistics, and business is also a must. In May 2018, the median annual wage was $102,880. The projected growth of employment of actuaries from 2018 to 2028 is 20 percent. But, it is worth noting that this is a small occupation, so the growth with yield only about 5,000 new jobs within that period.

Software Developers

Overview: Software Developers

2018 Median Pay $105,590 per year

$50.77 per hour

Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2018 1,365,500
Job Outlook, 2018-28 21% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2018-28 284,100

Software developers create computer applications and systems. Many work in manufacturing or computer systems design firms or for software publishers. A bachelor’s degree in computer science and strong programming skills is usually required. In May 2018, the median annual wage for software developers, applications, and software developers, systems was $103,620 and $110,000, respectively. The projected growth of employment from 2018 to 2028 is 21 percent. The demand for computer software will increase the demand for software developers.

Jason Velarde

Jason Velarde is the guy behind STEMcadia. He has been involved with libraries for over 15 years, starting as a Circulation Desk Clerk, working his way to becoming a Youth Services Librarian. Nearly every evening after work, you’ll find him either reverse engineering (breaking) a gadget or building prototype robots, but when he's not, he's here researching and writing about all things related to STEM on STEMcadia.