This article highlights research in The STEM Dilemma: Skills That Matter to Regions, which was recently published by the Upjohn Institute. The book looks at the regional workforce through the lens of the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) associated with regional occupations. This fine-grained approach uses data in the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) database to identify differences in
regional human capital concentrations. The O*NET database scores the importance and the required level of 120 individual KSA attributes for each occupation. Matching the occupational KSA attributes to wage and employment data available from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) enables examination of the actual human capital differences present in regional economies
and answers some important questions:
1. To what extent do STEM occupations drive modern regional economies?
2. Do STEM occupations provide better wages for regional employees?
3. What other KSAs represent valuable regional human capital?
4. Is there a relationship between the KSAs in demand by regional occupations and the welfare of the region itself?
This research clarifies how human capital development functions in the larger economy and how differences in human capital deployment impact regional well-being. These insights should help policymakers shape more targeted and effective place-based policies. Regional human capital development should increase the supply of valuable talent, provide employers with access to appropriately skilled workers, and connect workers to opportunities that best align with their talents. Key insights from the research include the following:
• Educational attainment is associated with higher wages but does not necessarily have significant or desirable effects on other measures of regional well-being.
• Above-average STEM KSAs are associated with increased regional well-being, but “high” may not be as high as is typically assumed. Not all value comes from college-degreed STEM occupations. These results show the importance of many technician and mechanical jobs that often are overlooked or ignored in articles, research, and policy on the economic importance of STEM jobs.
• Efforts to help dislocated workers may be more effective if they explore the skills associated with previous occupations and try to match workers to occupations with similar skill needs. Helping workers make the case for cross-cutting skills to regional employers could be a more effective economic development strategy than investment in big leaps of unrelated retraining.