Examining Wages, Employment and STEM Education at County Level for the Appalachia Partnership Initiative

For Release

March 16, 2016

A RAND Corporation report provides the first-ever county-level examination of wages and employment for workers in the Appalachia region with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training for careers in the oil and gas industry and in advanced manufacturing. The 27 counties are located in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

There has been an increasing demand for employees with a STEM education in the region, and in 2014, Chevron partnered with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Benedum Foundation to create the Appalachia Partnership Initiative. The initiative is a multi-year social investment program to support long-term, sustainable economic growth in the tri-state region by preparing K-12 students and local workers for jobs in the energy and advanced manufacturing sectors.

“We know from previous research that even with the usual fluctuation of energy demand and prices, employers continue to have a need to fill jobs and attract talent, especially for middle-skilled jobs that require a STEM education,” said the report's lead author Gabriella Gonzalez, senior sociologist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

The report asks whether there is evidence that local labor markets are adjusting to increases in demand for workers to fill STEM positions, and whether the local talent pool is graduating students from high schools and colleges with skills and in fields that could be utilized in the STEM labor market.

The RAND report, intended to set a baseline that will help measure the ongoing success of the effort, includes these key findings:

  • The utilities industry is the STEM-related industry providing the highest median wages in the region.
  • The occupations of engineering and architecture have the highest median wages of STEM-related occupations across all industries.
  • The number of regional jobs in STEM-related industries and occupations is increasing, while those in other industries and occupations are decreasing.
  • Between 2010–2011 and 2012–2013, Ohio and West Virginia had high-school graduation rates comparable to the rest of the nation, while Pennsylvania consistently outperformed the national average. Graduation rates in Pennsylvania also improved the most in those years (by 3.5 percentage points), compared to only 2 percentage points for Ohio, West Virginia and the nation.
  • Relative to the national average, a higher percentage of degrees granted from post-secondary institutions in the initiative region are in STEM fields, particularly associate's degrees and one- and two-year certificate programs.

Over five years, the project will track the progress and capture trends in the region's energy and advanced manufacturing sectors. The research team believes that in future years the information could be used to inform leaders across the 27-counties about where there is demand for educating and employing local talent in STEM careers.

“RAND's objective analysis is critical to measuring which programs funded by the Appalachia Partnership Initiative have the greatest impact on building the workforce and growing the region's economy,” said Trip Oliver, public affairs manager for Chevron Appalachia. “This region's long history of energy and manufacturing presents a unique opportunity for a collaborative program like the initiative to serve as a catalyst for change and a model for impactful public-private partnership.”

Researchers caution the work is intended to be a barometer of economic wellbeing in the region and should not be used to draw conclusions on how well a particular county is meeting the demands of employers for particular skills.

Support for this research was provided by Chevron. The report, “Wages, Employment, and STEM Education in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia,” and information about the Appalachia Partnership Initiative is available at www.rand.org.

Other authors of the study are Kyle Siler-Evans, Gerald Hunter and Matthew Baird.

This research was conducted by RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation. Its mission is to bring accurate data and careful, objective analysis to the national debate on education policy.

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