Latinos in the United States poised for significant presence in STEM sector

Over the past decade, there has been a notable increase in Hispanic enrollment in college programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, industries that by 2031 are expected to generate 10.9 million jobs

Imagen de archivo de un programador de sistemas.
The percentage of engineering degrees awarded to Latinos grew from 7.0% to 13.6% between 2010 and 2021.gorodenkoff (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Marisol Jiménez

It is no coincidence that companies such as Cisco, NVIDIA, American Express, Synchrony, Accenture, Cadence, Comcast, NBCUniversal, Pinnacle, Deloitte and Capital One top the list of the 100 best companies to work for in the U.S. in 2024. Nor is it a coincidence that, in recent years, the demand for professionals in STEM — the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — has grown significantly due to digitalization and technological innovation. This trend reflects the need for specialized talent in order to remain competitive in an increasingly technology-dependent global economy.

Given the demand, Latinos are breaking into the STEM sector, training and specializing in subjects such as engineering and technology. A report by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and the Latino Donor Collaborative highlights that the growing participation of Latinos in science and technology is crucial to the nation’s competitiveness and its ability to meet future challenges. The research notes that this group has been responsible for 73% of the nation’s workforce growth between 2010 and 2020 and has contributed a total of $3.2 trillion to the U.S. economy.

That is why SHPE states that the presence of Latinos in engineering and technology “is not just an option, but an imperative, especially considering the surge in job openings and Latino workforce and education participation trends.” According to SHPE data, the future is bright, with projections of 10.9 million jobs in STEM sectors by 2031. The U.S. leads the way in job creation in this sector, with a particular focus on information technology, engineering and life sciences.

The report notes that contrary to popular belief, education is one of the strongest values in the United States’ Latino culture: “The data on United States Latino workforce participation, education attainment, and bachelor’s degree completion rates are critical to addressing the engineering and technology workforce shortage in the U.S.”

Specifically, the number of Latino students studying engineering is growing “at an astounding rate,” the report notes. In fact, the Latino community has experienced the largest increase in undergraduate engineering student enrollment rates, outpacing the growth rates of any other ethnic group between 2010 and 2021, at 73.6%. During that same period, the U.S. Latino population grew by 23%, indicating that the Latino undergraduate engineering student enrollment rate was more than three times the population growth.

The percentage of engineering degrees awarded to Latinos grew from 7.0% to 13.6% between 2010 and 2021, an increase of 94.3%. And the number of bachelor’s degrees in engineering tripled from 5,810 in 2010 to 19,888 in 2021.

These trends indicate not only increased participation in higher education, but also a significant impact on the future workforce in critical fields such as engineering, which are fundamental to the country’s technological and scientific development. “At present, Latinos constitute just 9.4% of the engineering workforce, while their representation among undergraduate engineering students is notably higher,” according to the researchers. “With the ongoing growth in Latino education and involvement, this group is in a strong position to effectively address the rising demand and shortages in the field.”

Sol Trujillo, the co-founder and chair of The Latino Donor Collaborative board, asserts that “Latino participation in the engineering and technology fields is not merely a matter of diversity and inclusion; it is a vital component of maintaining our nation’s global competitiveness and technological advancement.”

More women needed in STEM

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in 2019 the average global proportion of female researchers amounted to 29.3% while just 35% of STEM students in higher education were women. These percentages show that there is still much to be done to reduce the gender gap that grows wider further up the education ladder. The disparity is due to a variety of factors, ranging from gender stereotypes, lack of female role models in these fields, and structural barriers in the academic and professional environment.

Noemí Hernández Guerrero, a specialist in technology management, says that in the fields of engineering, science and technology, it is still difficult to see women occupying strategic positions because there are not enough female candidates. She adds that two main factors play a role: First, women are not being actively encouraged to choose careers of this nature and second, imposter syndrome must be addressed.

“Women are often intimidated by the fear of not measuring up or being perceived as imposters in male-dominated environments,” says Hernández Guerrero. “It is crucial to overcome this fear and break through limiting perceptions.” By changing these perceptions, it will be possible to move toward greater inclusion and diversity in the world of technology, Hernández Guerrero concludes.

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