Aging Energy Workforce Prompts Smarter Investment In STEM Education

Mar 17, 2016

A map describing how the working-age population changed in 27 counties across the region from 2000 to 2013.
Credit RAND Corporation

Middle-skilled natural gas and energy workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are getting old.

That’s according to a Rand study, which found that one-quarter of those workers, such as welders, industrial mechanics and engineers, were nearing the age of 55 and close to retirement. The study is the first of five annual reports aiming to assess student preparation for industry jobs.

Gabriella Gonzalez, lead researcher and RAND senior analyst, said the labor pools are drying up in counties across the region, even though the national working-age population has increased nearly 14 percent over the last 13 years.

“The clear exceptions were Butler County and Washington County, and Monongalia County (in West Virginia), which experienced a very large increase,” said Gonzalez. “It increased 29.2 percent.”

Gonzalez said continued research helps governments and private organizations decide how to fund STEM education in the future. 

A review of the key findings of the RAND Corporation's study.
Credit RAND Corporation

Baselines assessed by RAND found Pennsylvania is above the national average in training young people in STEM fields and generally pays higher than the national average in those jobs.

“Pennsylvania seems to be keeping pace, or sometimes outpacing, the U.S. averages on high school graduation or math and science National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores,” Gonzalez said.

Ohio and West Virginia are both closer to the national average in high school graduation rates.

Pennsylvania and Ohio award far more STEM-related associate’s degrees than the national average, and more people earn four-year science and technology degrees in Pennsylvania and West Virginia than the national average.

Although Gonzalez said RAND hasn't tracked whether those students studying in STEM fields actually stay and work in those Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia counties. 

The study was funded by the Chevron Foundation, which in 2014 also pledged to give $20 million to fund STEM education in the 27 counties throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia in its Appalachia Partnership Initiative.