It's obvious: science, technology, engineering and mathematics are an integral part of everyone's life. Since 2009, STEM has represented more than 800,000 new jobs in the United States – more than double the number of new jobs in sectors other than STEM.
This growth should be exciting, especially given the growth of innovation that will follow. However, for companies operating in STEM fields, unprecedented growth is a bit staggering. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, near 2.4 million STEM jobs will remain vacant by the end of this year.
Traditionally, a shortage of employees in a certain area is most likely indicative of a general lack of interest in this area, but this time is not the case. The shortage is a result of demand for STEM jobs, a growth three times faster than non-STEM jobs, according to the SSEC.
The scope of the STEM is so vast that there must be a related career path, no matter what interests the students. To train a workforce made up of people more qualified in STEM, you have to familiarize people with the possibilities and offer them training opportunities.
New ways to teach STEM
In the most recent test of the International Student Assessment Program (PISA), conducted in 2015, US students ranked 38th and 24th 71 countries in mathematics and science, respectively. The National Math & Science Initiative reports that only 36 percent American high school graduates are ready to take STEM courses at university level.
Knowing that STEM will soon dominate the main aspects of virtually every sector, many actors contribute to efforts to focus on STEM education and encourage students to become enthusiastic about developing these skills. Here are some key steps taken to strengthen STEM education to ensure tomorrow's workers have the skills they need:
1. Programs take learning outside the classroom.
Although schools at all levels are strengthening their STEM programs, learning opportunities are developing outside the classroom and contributing to skills development, including extracurricular programs, summer camps and tutoring. And the demand for STEM jobs nationwide is sparking growing interest in local programs aimed at meeting this need.
A STEM growth report by Varsity Tutors, which offers STEM tutoring at the concierge level, shows that STEM tutoring has exploded in the Midwest, particularly in cities like St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cincinnati. The organization attributes this increase in STEM learning to the number of companies offering flexible working conditions that allow employees to work remotely, allowing Midwesterners to refine their skills to be competitive regardless of their location.
2. Business leaders and educators build bridges.
Students are not the only ones to learn STEM skills in the mind. The educational institutions responsible for teaching them and the companies that will soon be recruiting them also expand their reach by establishing partnerships. The Business-Higher Education Forum was created specifically to build such bridges. Faced with a shortage of STEM skills, these bridges are an even more vital resource.
Through BHEF, universities offering STEM undergraduate programs can share their programs with the local business community. Companies can give their opinion and possibly participate in the extension of programs. For example, Northrup Grumman Corporation and the University of Maryland, College Park have joined forces to create the first school specialized cybersecurity program to better meet the demand of cybersecurity professionals in the state.
3. Resources help parents and teachers make STEM accessible to their children.
As businesses, universities and community organizations work to connect STEM students to their future, parents and teachers have many resources to make STEM more accessible and more attractive to future generations. Young children may not fully realize the importance of STEM, but they can enjoy it when they play.
Through informal educational activities, they can also prepare for STEM skills training that they will likely need. Programs such as Engineering for children and STEM spirits offers a wide range of resources for parents and educators to make STEM learning attractive to children. These programs, among others, are designed to empower young minds by combining the principles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics with fun projects and team exercises.
It is worrying that current figures are predicting a potentially innovative shortage of STEM innovators in the US economy very soon. However, it is encouraging to see schools, businesses, organizations and parents working together to help students gain interest and knowledge in STEM.