Software developers make up the largest STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) occupation. Will automation impact it like everything else? New research puts a microscope on STEM jobs and their impact on automation.

As I have stated many times before, STEM education directly impacts the technology sector because this is where we are training our next generation (or not), giving them the required education to drive innovation. Whether you believe it or not, young people exposed to STEM education often determines whether young people will be exposed to jobs in STEM-related fields.

STEM is kind of a broad term. For this blog we are referencing hardware engineers and engineering managers, information systems managers, information research scientists, network architects and network support specialists, programmers, systems analysts, information security analysts, operations analysts, and software developers. There are many others, of course, but you can see from the aforementioned list that a lot of these occupations are relevant in the IoT (Internet of Things) realm.

According to the U.S. BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics)’ latest data, seven out of the 10 largest STEM occupations are related to computers and information systems, and of this segment, software developers make up the largest STEM occupation.

The bureau also projects that during the decade between 2014-2024, employment in computer-related occupations will grow more than any other category, increasing by 12.5%, which equates to about a half-million jobs.

Looking closer at the manufacturing sector, STEM jobs include occupations like fabricator, machinist, field service engineer, plant process engineers, and materials engineers.

RCLCO and CapRidge Partners recently released some research on STEM jobs in the U.S., including their fourth annual STEM job growth index called the 2020 STEMdex., which tells us where this growth is happening geographically.

These firms analyzed 38 metropolitan areas and found that STEM employment grew at a combined annual rate of 7.4%. The STEMdex shows the top 20 metropolitan areas in terms of STEM job growth momentum.

The top five cities for 2020 are Charlotte, N.C.; Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Seattle, Wash., and Raleigh, N.C. If you compare this year’s list to previous years, the most notable difference is that Austin was finally supplanted as the top STEM city after being ranked number-one for several years.

Of course, 2020 isn’t turning out exactly how anyone had hoped, and the global COVID-19 pandemic is going to disrupt a lot of projections. so, the post-COVID world in terms of STEM jobs will likely continue to play a significant role in economic growth.

RCLCO and CapRidge Partners say they expect regions with more STEM jobs to recover from this recession faster than regions with a majority of jobs that are more concentrated in effected industries like hospitality and retail.

Historically, STEM occupations have lower rates of unemployment and offer higher wages, so these careers may prove to be more resilient. With the lingering pandemic, this begs the question how will automation affect STEM jobs?

To date, Statista reveals that automation will generate $214 billion globally in 2021. Process automation, 3D printing, AI (artificial intelligence), and drones are all going to contribute generously to global revenues in the automation space in the next year or so.

As to how and to what degree automation will affect STEM jobs, this is going to depend very much on the skill level required for the job in question. Any STEM occupation that requires manual or routine work is definitely going to be vulnerable.

In key verticals such as manufacturing, transportation, construction, and other industries, automation has had and will continue to have a big impact. On one hand, it has boosted productivity in these sectors and has led to job growth for high-skilled workers.

On the other hand, automation is affecting, even displacing manual and routine work. For instance, a study from PWC suggests up to 45% of existing manufacturing jobs and 52% of transportation jobs could potentially be automated by the next decade (the 2030s).

And in construction, up to 49% of jobs, which equates to 2.7 million jobs, could be automated by 2057, according to the Midwest Economic Policy Institute.

But the automation of tasks and processes is at the same time creating demand for “high-tech workers”—people who program, code, analyze, manage data, and data security, etc.

STEM jobs that require a lot of knowledge and non-routine tasks are going to be the least susceptible to automation. With advances in AI and machine learning, automated systems are getting smarter and smarter. There is no question that eventually, there will be a vast list of jobs that can be fully or partially automated. So, the question remains is STEM next?

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