The Skilled Technical Workforce

The pervasiveness of science and technology in the economy has changed the nature of work for individuals at all education levels, including those who have a high school diploma or an associate’s degree or similar level qualification, rather than a bachelor’s degree. The skilled technical workforce (STW) consists of individuals who use science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) knowledge and skills in their jobs and have some high school, high school diploma, some college, associate’s degree, or similar levels of educational attainment.

The STW is important to U.S. economic competitiveness. Businesses cite the availability of STEM workers as critical to their ability to compete globally, yet regularly express difficulty in finding workers to fill these jobs. The STW also plays an important role in advancing our national security. Industries that are critical to our national security and defense—including aerospace, advanced manufacturing, information technology, health care, and cybersecurity—rely on availability of these workers (NASEM 2017).

Demographics of the Skilled Technical Workforce

In 2017, over 17 million people worked as skilled technical workers, defined here as workers in occupations that employ significant levels of S&E expertise and technical knowledge and whose educational attainment is less than a bachelor’s degree (Table 3-14). In this section, nationally representative data from the American Community Survey (ACS) are used to provide an analysis of demographic and employment trends among the STW (age 25 and older) in the United States (see this report’s Technical Appendix for more details). The data show that skilled technical jobs provide solid career opportunities for a significant part of the U.S. workforce.

The STW accounts for a considerable portion of U.S. employment (13% of the workforce age 25 and older) (Table 3-14). This workforce is made up primarily of men—only 28% of skilled technical workers are women. In contrast, the overall U.S. workforce (age 25 and older) is about half women and half men. The racial and ethnic distribution of the STW is largely similar to the overall workforce (Table 3-14). Compared to the overall workforce, Asians account for a smaller share of the STW (4% versus 6%), and so do foreign-born individuals (16% of STW, compared with 18% of the overall workforce).

Total and skilled technical workforce age 25 and older, by gender, race, ethnicity, and foreign born: 2017

(Number and percent)
Note(s)

Values do not include those employed in military occupations. Hispanic may be any race; race categories exclude Hispanic origin. All employment numbers are rounded to the nearest 1,000.

Source(s)

Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 2017, Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS).

Science and Engineering Indicators