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STEM jobs are growing — and Latinos could be key to filling them

Copy of November 11 2021-14.jpg
Attendees listen to a speaker during the SHPE convention in Orlando in 2021.

Thousands of Latino science, tech, engineering and math professionals will take over uptown next week, for the nation’s largest gathering of Latinos in STEM.

For the 4,500 Latino college students expected to attend, the annual Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers convention will be a chance to meet potential employers.

STEM employment is growing more than twice as rapidly nationwide as other occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nearly 11 million U.S. workers will be employed in STEM fields by 2031. That’s more than one million additional jobs in careers like computer science, architecture and engineering.

SHPE leadership says the organization wants to ensure Latinos — the nation’s fastest-growing demographic — are part of the growth. CEO Chris Wilkie says Latinos will be vital to fill future STEM job vacancies.

“When you look at that demographic growth and you look at the job growth in STEM, it makes sense [to conclude] that the Hispanic community will be not only a large part of that solution, but likely the solution,” Wilkie said.

Currently, Latinos are underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Nearly one in five working adults in the U.S. is Latino. But Pew Research indicates Latinos fill only 8% of STEM jobs.

SHPE’s chief external relations officer, Monique Herrera, sees an opportunity to bridge the gap between employers and Latinos aspiring to enter STEM.

She says SHPE’s career fair, in addition to 150 STEM-themed workshops, will be a highlight of their five-day national conference next week at the Charlotte Convention Center.

“We will have 650 interview booths onsite, which means at any given time between Wednesday and Saturday, 650 interviews will be happening at the same time at the convention center, with hundreds, if not thousands, of our students and young professionals leaving with on-the-spot job offers upon their graduation next May,” Herrera said.

A benefit of STEM employment, Wilkie points out, is that the jobs pay better than non-STEM jobs. According to labor statistics, the median salary for STEM occupations was about $95,000 in 2021, compared to $40,000 for non-STEM jobs.

Better salaries in STEM could mean a previously unattainable path to financial stability, Wilkie says.

“The demand is there, which offers a higher level of job security and stability for these individuals,” Wilkie said. "Oftentimes, the STEM industries as a whole set these individuals up to create generational growth and wealth.”

Employers benefit from Latino representation as well.

“The data will suggest and has proven that the more diverse your teams are, the more diversity of thought you have trying to solve problems, the better the business outcomes,” he said. “So, it's not only the right thing to do, but from a business lens, it's also the smart thing to do.”

The convention has sold out and is expecting around 8,000 attendees. SHPE will also be promoting STEM at three local schools — East Mecklenburg High School, Julius Chambers High School and South Mecklenburg High School — where the program will be entirely in Spanish.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.