PITTSBURG — On Friday, approximately 650 area high school and community college students, along with over 50 teachers visited Pittsburg State University to attend the College of Technology Open House.
The students were there to learn more about the “new and emerging technologies and the
growing field of STEM careers,” a release said.
According to many PSU professors, industries in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics related fields are in dire need of educated professionals.
“For us, in higher education across the nation we know that the construction industry is booming right now and is predicted to boom for the next 15 to 20 years,” Director of School of Construction Jim Otter said.
Over 30 years, Otter has watched the construction industry change.
“What is really odd about it is right now it’s all sectors — residential, commercial, highway heavy, specialty works — everything is booming, so that puts a huge demand on the workforce,” he said. “People used to be more mobile and move from one sector to the next.”
Labor wise, he said there is a shortage of every craft person in the industry — including carpenters, electricians, plumbers and equipment operators.
Otter said there are many reasons as to why there is such a need for more people in these fields, this includes the growth of the economy.
“That spurs spending,” he said. “For the last 10 years they have been sitting on money, now they have surplus money and now want to invest it.”
Other reasons include retirements and decline of population. Many people who are post-60-years-old or “baby boomers” are retiring.
Mentorships and tutoring young professionals in the field should be considered, as the retirees “take a wealth of knowledge with them,” Otter said.
Otter also said people do not start in construction or related industries as young as they used to. In the past, many students started in high school — which is now reemerging through technical school options during high school and the introduction of STEM-related activities in Kindergarten through 12th grade classes.
Otter said students are also not coming in with as much experience as they used to. He said 20 to 30 years ago, there were more students who had previously worked on a family farm while growing up or worked on various projects with their parents.
“We used to have students that came in off farms or construction experience and their minds were wired for this,” he said.
Otter said young professionals who come in “ready to go” with previous experience seem to have an easier time.
“They have a faster learning curve, but they still have to gain that experience [through mentorships and education],” he said. “To be honest, we can’t get them out of the door fast enough.”
To fill their workforce, many businesses have recruited students before graduation and offered them jobs before they have completed their degree. Well over 100 companies come to PSU to hire graduates every year.
“You want to make sure they complete their degree,” he said. “It’s really hard to keep a senior when a company asks them to come to work now and worry about the completion of the students’ degree later.”
Students also are offered internships across the United States and beyond to help with projects.
Technology and Engineering Education Assistant Professor Byron McKay said there is also a “dire need” for teachers.
“We get calls all of the time from schools saying need teachers,” he said. “Spots go unfilled every year because there’s not enough people to fill the spots.
“These schools want them because they know it leads students into the industry and they want it for their future.  
“We do hear it from industries, certainly. Like construction, they need workers — tons of them.”
The technology and engineering education graduates go on to teach high school and middle school construction, automotive, graphic design, wood shop and other technology and engineering related fields.
He said the university’s Elementary STEM minor and emphasis helps elementary school teachers learn how to implement STEM-related activities in their curriculum.

STEM-related industry statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
• Employment of construction laborers and helpers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.
The Environmental Health Safety profession’s job growth will increase by 13 percent from now until 2020. A recent study suggested that the demand for EHS professionals in the next 5 years will outpace the number of students expected to graduate from EHS-related programs. Median salary, with experience, is $97,000 per year. The average college graduate makes $55,000 to $65,000 per year.
• Nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs in 2015 There were nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs in May 2015, representing 6.2 percent of U.S. employment. Computer occupations made up nearly 45 percent of STEM employment, and engineers made up an additional 19 percent. Mathematical science occupations and architects, surveyors, and cartographers combined made up less than 4 percent of STEM employment.
• The national average wage for all STEM occupations was $87,570, nearly double the national average wage for non-STEM occupations ($45,700).
• Employment in STEM occupations grew by 10.5 percent, or 817,260 jobs, between May 2009 and May 2015, compared with 5.2 percent net growth in non-STEM occupations.
• Over 99 percent of STEM employment was in occupations that typically require some type of postsecondary education for entry, compared with 36 percent of overall employment.
The U.S. government reported that the manufacturing sector added 37,000 jobs during July, pushing the industry to the best annual job gain in more than 20 years. Over the past year through July, U.S. manufacturing added 327,000 jobs, the most of any 12-month period since April 1995.

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.