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Young Coloradans getting their start in STEM industries as technicians

Companies such as Lockheed Martin are hiring skilled community college students in their late teens and early 20s.
Computer science students at Arapahoe Community College's Sturm Collaboration Campus on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Castle Rock.

More people under age 25 need to join STEM industries to meet future demand in Colorado and the rest of the country, according to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. But the path into those companies isn’t always through a university, said Dr. Amanda Meier, faculty member in the Front Range Community College’s optics technology program.

“There’s a very high level of reliance on the technician job roles within these companies,” Meier said. “They’re realizing that the associates degrees and the certificate programs that get you on the job quicker and train just the necessary, relevant skill set to do the specific job, are very beneficial.”

Often companies are looking for community college students that have been connected with on-the-job training, she said.

“You can’t have products unless someone is making them, and we don’t pay PhD’s to manufacture a large number of products,” Meier explained. “And so I think we’re seeing a shift from a lot of companies that are realizing if they’re growing their technology and manufacturing those technologies, that they need more technicians to truly do the work.”

The need for employees in STEM fields is expected to double over the next 10 years in Colorado and the rest of the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The use of technology is growing rapidly, and changing the traditional views of STEM skills, said Dr. Eric Dunker, VP for workforce and economic development at Arapahoe Community College.

“Now, when you take a car to a shop, you have to be more of a computer technician than someone who turns a wrench,” Dunker said. “You look at all the buildings in downtown Denver, many of them are run on very complex computer systems, so there’s a lot of professions that are changing to become more technological.”

Those who get their start with a STEM company at a young age can move on to get their bachelor’s degrees later, with a resume that already includes valuable skills at well-known companies, he said.

“Lockheed Martin, in the advanced manufacturing and aerospace space, has been hiring several of our first and second-year students — some as early as 18 or 19 years old — into clearance positions because they had successful internships with them,” Dunker said.

These entry-level technician positions can allow young people to experience an industry and decide whether it’s right for them, he explained. If the students then decide to transfer to a university and apply for an advanced job in that industry later on, they will have a more in-depth understanding of that field.

“They can see how processes are becoming more automated, and they will understand how to run these complex systems,” Dunker said.

When advising high school students, it’s important to show them different types of post-secondary education and a range of new job fields, he explained.

Amber Fisher

About the Author: Amber Fisher

I'm thrilled to be an assistant editor with the Longmont Leader after spending the past decade reporting for news outlets across North America. When I'm not writing, you can find me snowboarding, reading fiction and running (poorly).
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