School districts, cities look to STEM future job markets

As skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) become more attractive to employers, area school districts are preparing students for a new job market.

All the while, cities are also competing with other municipalities to bring those STEM jobs to the Kyle and Buda area.

Occupations under the STEM category include civil and mechanical engineers, computer programmers, biological technicians and physicists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Having a company involved in a STEM field, especially technology or engineering, would be of great benefit to Buda, said Ann Miller, executive director of the Buda Economic Development Corporation.

“Jobs in technology and engineering are usually high-paying and good-quality jobs, and there’s a growing demand for them in the Austin region, with it growing into a sort of Silicon Valley of the central U.S.,” Miller said.

According to BLS, the average math, computer science and engineering jobs pay more than twice as much as $39,052, which is the average annual wage in Hays County.

About a third of Buda’s workforce commutes outside the city every day to head to a job, often in Austin, Miller said. Buda may benefit from its proximity to the state capital, but Miller said the economic development corporation’s goal is to bring more companies inside city limits.

“We would ultimately like to have jobs here, so (employees) can commute across town and come home for lunch, be able to pick their kids up from school and spend more time in the community because they don’t have to go to Austin and back each day,” Miller said.

Buda is competitive when it comes to recruiting businesses, she said. Other cities can offer rebates on sales and property taxes, but because Buda is the only city in Hays County with an economic development corporation, the city is in a position to offer additional incentives.

Buda already has a competent workforce, low city property tax rate and a good school district that potential businesses like to see. But one thing the city is missing is adequate workspace, Miller said.

Many companies in STEM industries want enlarged offices with several floors, Miller said, which Buda is lacking. The city has contacted developers who are willing to build such an office, but without an established tenant. Most companies want to relocate as soon as possible and not wait for construction, Miller said.

“It kind of creates a catch-22,” she said. “We are trying to come up with a plan to mitigate the risks.“

Not only engineers and computer specialists would be in the running for new jobs created in Buda if a company were to relocate to the city. Miller said plenty of “STEM-adjacent” careers would follow, such as opportunities in construction or welding.

“There are a lot of STEM-adjacent careers in those fields, and they pay really, really well. They are going to continue to be needed in this area,” she said. “That’s why I really applaud Hays CISD, because not only did they do a lot of STEM programs, but they teach skills that are needed in our community and pay well.”

Hays CISD schools are preparing students for a new job market that prizes STEM skills, said Suzi Mitchell, the Career and Technical Education (CTE) director of Hays CISD.

The district’s science, technology, engineering and applied mathematics courses fall under the CTE program. More than 1,000 Hays CISD students are enrolled in either an engineering, biomedical or computer science pathway this semester, she said.

“Computer science skills are very much in demand, especially in Austin, which is becoming a tech capital,” Mitchell said. “Students could easily live in Kyle or Buda and work at a tech company in Austin.”

As area job prospects in the STEM fields continue to grow, it is important for Hays CISD to provide students in Buda and Kyle the opportunity to develop skills they need to be hired, Mitchell said.

“As robotics and self-driving car technology advances, there will be jobs that we don’t even know will exist in the next five years, where this kind of education will be important,” Miller said.

The exposure to STEM coursework can help students decide if a career in those fields is right for them, get an idea of what kind of jobs are available and whether or not pursuing a college degree is right for them.

“(People with those skills) will be in demand. They will get a job and have the background they need to either go to college or get a job. They will be prepared for the real world,” Mitchell said.    

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