Journal of Research in Technical Careers


skilled technical workforce, STEM, technical career, transition, undergraduate


Higher Education


The skilled technical workforce (STW) comprises workers in occupations that require significant science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) skills but not a bachelor’s degree for entry. The United States had over 17 million STW workers in 2017, and is expected to be short about 3.4 million workers who are qualified for the available STW positions by 2022. Despite the important contribution of the STW to the U.S. economy, the policy discourse on the STEM workforce has largely focused on workers with bachelor’s or graduate degrees, overlooking those without a 4-year degree. Consequently, knowledge about the STW is limited. This paper draws on a recently available national data source to provide a close look at STW workers through the lens of U.S. undergraduates who joined the STW after college. Multivariate results indicate that students who held STW jobs after college fared better than those who held nontechnical jobs on a range of employment outcomes, including salary, access to workforce benefits, alignment between college majors and intended careers, and job satisfaction. Multivariate analyses also confirmed that graduating from a less-than-4-year institution, earning a subbaccalaureate credential, and majoring in STEM, healthcare, and such technical fields as manufacturing, construction, repair, and transportation are common paths to STW careers. Despite the benefits of STW employment, however, relatively few students pursued STW jobs after college. Significantly fewer female than male students and fewer Black than White students pursued STW jobs, even after controlling for such factors as major field, type of last institution, STEM credits, and educational attainment. However, post-college STW participation did not differ between Hispanic and White students or vary by students’ family income or their parents’ education attainment.


Xianglei Chen