BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's STEM jobs — those in science, technology, engineering and math — pay double the wages of non-STEM jobs, on average, yet there's a lack of qualified job seekers to fill them.
The Idaho Press reports that's according to Idaho STEM Action Center Director Angela Hemingway's report to lawmakers Monday.
STEM jobs pay an average of $32.52 an hour, compared to $15.30 for non-STEM jobs, she said.
In 2019, 7,633 STEM jobs went unfilled in Idaho for lack of qualified applicants.
“That represents over half a billion dollars in lost personal income to Idahoans,” Hemingway told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee as she presented her agency’s budget. “7,633 represents over $27 million in lost state tax revenue in 2019 alone. 7,633 represents hundreds of Idaho businesses struggling to find a STEM-skilled workforce.”
The STEM Action Center’s mission is to address that through promoting more student engagement in STEM activities, by working collaboratively with partners including educators, schools, colleges, universities, state agencies and private industry. The center also is overseeing the state’s computer science initiative.
“We are already seeing a return on investment,” Hemingway told lawmakers. “Over the past two years, because of your support for computer science, we have seen an 11% increase in the number of secondary teachers teaching computer science. … That translated into an 18% increase in the number of students taking computer science courses. These are real numbers that are directly impacting our educators and our students.”
JFAC members noted, however, that the funding for the state’s computer science initiative has gone down, and hand in hand with that, the number of teachers and students involved in the STEM Action Center’s programs has dropped. Last year, Idaho put $2 million in state general funds into the initiative; this year, it was $1 million. For next year, Gov. Brad Little is recommending $500,000.
The center also has reported successful fundraising, raising nearly $1 million so far during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, from grants and private industry. Last week, lawmakers agreed to give the center spending authority for up to $2 million a year in donations, up from the previous $1 million. But Hemingway said many of the grants and industry donations are for specific purposes, often tied to specific industries and the state’s most urban areas. It’s the state funding, she said, that allows the center to focus on rural Idaho.
Gideon Tolman, an analyst with the governor’s Division of Financial Management, noted that the previous two year’s funding for the initiative was all one-time.
“The difference is the governor is recommending $500,000 ongoing,” he said. That funding would recur annually.
“Many agencies have had a decrease,” Tolman said.
The governor’s recommendation for the STEM Action Center for next year overall represents nearly an 18% increase in state general funds, he said. “It’s not a million dollars, but it’s an incremental increase.”
Overall, under the governor's recommendation, the STEM Action Center's general fund budget would rise from this year's $2.6 million to nearly $3.1 million next year.
Last year, STEM jobs in Idaho grew 4.4%, Hemingway reported, compared to a 2.8% increase in non-STEM jobs.
“By 2026, the Idaho Department of Labor predicts there may be an additional 19,000 new STEM jobs in Idaho," she said. "By 2026 … STEM jobs could represent nearly $7 billion in personal income for Idahoans and over $350 million in state tax revenue if we have a workforce poised to fill them.”
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