When looking for a career almost universally prospective employees look to fields that have:

  • Higher salaries
  • Ample job openings
  • Opportunities for promotion or advancement

There is no hotter area checking off these three boxes right now than the STEM fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects steady growth in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) out until at least 2028 and most likely beyond.

By 2022, the BLS projects there will be over 9 million STEM jobs. Because of the demand, STEM careers pay well. The national average annual salary for all STEM occupations is $87,750 or nearly double the average annual salary for non-STEM occupations at $45,700. Because of the high demand at all levels in the STEM fields employees that perform well can expect to get rewarded with timely promotion and advancement opportunities.

But as good as all of this sounds, there is a problem; employers report they are having a hard time finding qualified people to not only fill current job openings, but to keep up with new positions that are being created.

One-way employers see as a path out of this dilemma is to tap the pool of veterans. Around 1.5 million servicemembers per year transition out of the military. Most veterans possess the soft skills employers seek out in an employee and most recently transitioned veterans have some training in one or more of the STEM fields from their military service. But the catch is most of them lack the formal education required to fill these jobs.

And while the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays for up to 36 months of education – four 9-month academic years – it is not enough to complete the degrees required to fill these jobs. Sometimes the issue is the number of military credits a school will accept. In other cases, veterans must take several prerequisite courses before they can enter a STEM degree program. These two common issues alone translate to veterans usually not having enough Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement to complete a STEM degree. Not wanting to go into debt, many simply quit school and do not finish their degree.

The VA is trying to remedy the lack of entitlement by launching the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM scholarship to give veterans studying in the STEM fields additional entitlement so they can finish their STEM degree.

To qualify, undergraduate students must have completed at least 60 hours of a 120-semester credit or more STEM program and have or will have exhausted their Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement within six months of applying for the scholarship. Eligible students can apply and if approved get up to an additional 9-months of entitlement (limited to $30,000) to help them complete their STEM degree.

And Congress is aware of the issue, too, and is trying to help. On January 27 both the House of Representative and Senate passed the “Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act”. Once signed by the President into law, it instructs the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a veterans outreach plan to better connect veterans with STEM jobs and educational opportunities. The outreach plan would include:

  • A report on NSF’s existing outreach activities
  • An identification of the best methods to leverage existing programs to facilitate and support veterans in STEM careers and studies
  • Develop options how the NSF could track veteran participation in research and education programs
  • Identify current barriers to collecting the veteran information
  • Updating the NSF research, educational and grant programs to include veteran participation
  • Requiring the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an interagency working group to coordinate federal programs for transitioning and training veterans in the STEM careers
  • Developing a strategic plan to address the barriers that veterans face when re-entering the workforce.

A strong supporter of the bill, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said, “The 21st-century workforce will be dominated by STEM roles, and our nation’s veterans are uniquely qualified to fill these jobs. This important bipartisan bill to ensure our nation’s veterans have the skills and opportunities to succeed in STEM careers is now on its way to the president’s desk.”

Another advantage that veterans have over civilians is many of them either still have a valid security clearance or had one in the past which means they can fill a job requiring one sooner and at less expense to their employer than a civilian never having had a clearance.

If you are a veteran interested in an exciting career in one of the STEM fields, getting trained in any of these fields is an opportunity you should not let pass by. The future belongs to those who are prepared.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.