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Report: Latinos Essential to Growing STEM Workforce

U.S. Latinos are key when it comes the nation’s engineering and technology workforce, according to a new joint report from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and the Latino Donor Collaborative (LDC).Ana ValdezAna ValdezVoyageLA

According to the report, the economic contributions the Latino community makes to the U.S. are immense. The contributions are significant enough that if the national Latino population were its own country, it would have the fifth-largest GDP in the world, $3.2 trillion, despite comprising only 19.1% of the U.S. population.

And although they make up only 18.5% of the nation's workforce, they were the cause for 73% of U.S. workforce participation growth between 2010-2020, the report noted. 

Additionally, their purchasing power of $3.4 trillion in 2021 comes with 4.7% annual growth, while non-Latinos experienced only 1.9%. And as business owners, Latinos made up 50% of net new small businesses from 2007–2017.

This is all to say that the economic impact of the U.S. Latino population is not negligible. And as the U.S. anticipates a coming shortage of workers in engineering and tech – there are projected to be 10.9 million STEM job openings by 2031 – supporting and assisting this population with the obstacles in their paths may prove essential to the economic health of the country, the report stated.

"Everybody's talking about how are we going to bridge that gap," said Dr. Dayna L. MartĂ­nez, senior director of research and impact at SHPE during a Sep. 28 panel about the report. "We're here. Latinos are here to help bridge that gap. ... We're ready to bridge that gap."

A growing demographic, Latinos currently make up 25% of young Americans aged 18 and under, according to the report. And an increasing percentage of Latinos seem to be pursuing undergraduate engineering degrees, the demographic seeing a 73.6% increase in undergrad engineering enrollment rates from 2010 (9.1%) to 2021 (15.8%). For comparison, Black students and white students saw decreases of 8.5% and 19.7%, respectively.

"The most populated age in Latinos is 14 years old," said LDC President and CEO Ana Valdez during the panel. "So one of the reasons why we don't have parity yet is age. Simply our kids are too young to be engineers yet. But they're heading there."

During the same time frame, Hispanic students have increasingly comprised more and more of the recipients of undergraduate engineering degrees, with a 94.3% rise from 7% to 13.6%. On the graduate level, Latino students were 9.4% of engineering master’s degree recipients in 2021 – from 4.2% in 2003 – and 7.5% of engineering doctorate recipients.

Projections say that Latino students will reach parity in engineering enrollment by 2035, MartĂ­nez said.

Despite these gains, Latino students continue to face several hurdles during their academic and career pursuits, such as insufficient financial literacy, career planning, and financial assistance.

“Undergraduates are most concerned with scholarship opportunities, financial literacy, and paying for their education,” survey conductors reported about the financial needs of Latino students. “Graduate students’ needs are focused on financing their education and financial support for conference travel. Professionals are mostly focused on financial literacy and professionals in graduate school require financing for their continued education.”

The potential of Latinos in STEM fields is hindered by these obstacles, SHPE Interim CEO Miguel Alemañy said during the panel.

“Hispanics [come to this country] to work and to better their lives,” Alemañy said. “And the only reason they're not represented in high numbers in STEM is because there are barriers."

One issue highlighted in the report was the shortage of Latino mentors to encourage students to pursue STEM fields. Having role models and in-class representation also matters a good bit, the researchers wrote.

Citing the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the report authors also noted that more than half of Latinos with serious mental illness – among young U.S. Latino adults aged 18–25 – receive no treatment, likely due to social, cultural, and financial issues. Only 35.1% of U.S. Latino adults with mental illness receive treatment each year, a noticeable gap from the national average, 46.2%.

“Addressing this requires culturally sensitive, early interventions involving families and communities and educational efforts to improve mental health access and awareness within the U.S. Latino community,” the report suggested.

The report concludes with a number of calls to actions, directed towards not just higher ed and governmental bodies, but also to Latinos and corporate entities. Among these suggestions were calls for corporations to implement inclusive hiring practices and diversity in leadership; and a need for higher ed to recruit Latino faculty in engineering and tech. 

“Encourage research and scholarship on U.S. Latino issues in engineering and technology fields that advance knowledge and understanding of Hispanic experiences, contributions, and challenges,” the report noted. 

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