N.O. ties for third in report on STEM jobs

A new report found that New Orleans was tied for third out of the top 100 U.S. metro areas for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math that are available to people without a bachelor’s degree.

The report on the hidden STEM-job economy, released Monday by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, found that 12.4 percent of all jobs in metro New Orleans are available to people who don’t have a four-year college degree but substantial knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math. Health diagnosing and treating practitioners topped the job list.

Nationally, 10 percent of all jobs are available to people with STEM knowledge but no bachelor’s degree. Baton Rouge ranked first nationally at 12.6 percent, with its construction trades and petrochemical jobs. Birmingham, Ala., was second at 12.5 percent and New Orleans was tied with Fort Myers, Fla.

“When most people think of STEM jobs, they think of working in computers, electronics or the tech sector, but it’s much broader than that,” said Jonathan Rothwell, an associate fellow with the Brookings Institute and the author of the report. “But there are some industries that are very STEM-oriented, such as utilities, energy-related firms and construction companies.”

These STEM jobs pay well. According to the Brookings report, the average annual salary for a STEM job in New Orleans is $63,651, compared with $35,930 for non-STEM jobs. And while a STEM job that requires a two-year degree or less has an average annual salary of $51,891 in New Orleans, non-STEM jobs that call for an associates’ degree or less have an average pay of $31,970.

Manufacturing jobs that pay good wages have been vanishing in recent years. Rothwell said these STEM jobs are another way that mechanically inclined young people can find a career that gives them a chance for a middle-class lifestyle.

“The number of declining workers in manufacturing is a disturbing trend with implications for income inequality,” he said. “But there is an increasing demand for skilled workers that doesn’t require a college education.”

Since about one-third of all adults graduate from college with a four-year degree or better, Rothwell said something needs to be done to avoid condemning two-thirds of the U.S. population to low-wage jobs.

“There are other alternatives to people who are not attracted to a four-year degree track if they are willing to acquire formal training,” he said.

The biggest STEM occupation in New Orleans is health diagnosing and treating practitioners. Brookings found there are 18,090 health diagnosing and treating practitioners. Twenty-seven percent of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree.

Unique to New Orleans, Rothwell said there are 2,420 jobs for sailors and marine oilers. Those jobs have an average wage of $37,000 a year and most of the people who have those positions have a high school diploma. There were also 890 jobs for chemical plant and system operators. Those jobs have an average wage of $54,000 a year and most of the people who have those positions have a high school diploma.

“These positions do require on-the-job-training,” he said. “They’re not for people off the street, you need to have a demonstrated competency in the subject matter. But there is a great opportunity.”

Steve Springer, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Business Roundtable, an industry association, said the billions of dollars in expansions and upgrades going on at petrochemical plants across the Gulf of Mexico has created a lot of opportunities for construction and engineering jobs. But the available STEM careers go a bit deeper.

“You also need people to monitor the functions of those facilities,” he said. “There’s a whole sub-industry of people who monitor the safety and health of the people in these plants.”