By Brad Anderson
Editor-in-chief of ReadWrite
It’s obvious: Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are integral parts of everyone’s life. Since 2009, STEM has accounted for more than 800,000 new jobs in the United States, more than double the number of new jobs in non-STEM sectors.
That growth should be exciting, especially considering the boom of innovation that’s sure to follow. However, for companies that operate in STEM fields, the unprecedented growth is a little staggering. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, nearly 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled by the end of this year.
Traditionally, a shortage of employees in a certain field most likely indicates a general lack of interest in that field, but that isn’t the case this time. The shortage is the result of the demand for STEM jobs growing at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs for about a decade, according to the SSEC.
The scope of STEM is so broad that there’s bound to be a related career path, no matter what students are interested in. Developing a workforce of more STEM-qualified individuals is a matter of introducing people to the possibilities and providing opportunities for training.
New Ways to Teach STEM
In the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, conducted in 2015, U.S. students ranked 38th and 24th out of 71 countries in math and science, respectively. The National Math & Science Initiative reports that only 36 percent of U.S. high school graduates are ready to take college-level STEM courses.
Knowing that STEM will soon dominate major aspects of virtually every industry, many stakeholders are aiding in efforts to focus on STEM education and encourage students to get excited about developing these skills. Here are just a few key things being done to boost STEM education to ensure that tomorrow’s workers will have the skills they need.
1. Programs are taking learning outside the classroom.
While schools at all levels are making their STEM curricula more robust, there are also learning opportunities happening outside the classroom that are aiding in skill development, including after-school programs, summer camps, and tutoring. And the demand for STEM jobs nationwide is increasing interest in local programs to address the need.
A STEM growth report by Varsity Tutors, which provides concierge-level STEM tutoring and support, shows that STEM tutoring has boomed in the Midwest, especially in cities like St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. The organization credits this increase in STEM learning to the number of companies offering flexible working conditions that allow employees to work remotely, which means Midwesterners can refine their skill sets to be competitive for these jobs wherever they’re located.
2. Business leaders and educators are building bridges.
Students aren’t the only ones with STEM skills learning on their minds. The educational institutions responsible for teaching them and the companies that will soon need to hire them are also expanding their reach by partnering. The Business-Higher Education Forum was created specifically for building such bridges, and in the face of the STEM skills shortage, those bridges are an even more vital resource.
Through BHEF, universities that offer undergraduate STEM programs can share their curricula with the local business community. Businesses can offer feedback and potentially chip in to expand the programs. For instance, Northrup Grumman Corporation and the University of Maryland, College Park joined forces to establish the first undergraduate residential honors program in cybersecurity in an effort to better meet the demand for cybersecurity professionals in the state.
3. Resources help parents and teachers make STEM relatable to their kids.
While businesses, universities, and community organizations work to connect STEM students with their futures, there are plenty of resources available for parents and teachers to make STEM more relatable and appealing to upcoming generations. Younger children may not fully realize the importance of STEM, but they can enjoy it when it’s fun.
Through informal educational activities, they can also prepare themselves to pursue an education that focuses on the STEM skills they’ll likely need. Programs such as Engineering for Kids and STEM Minds offer a wide range of resources for parents and educators to make STEM learning exciting for children. These and other programs are designed to empower young minds by connecting the principles of science, technology, engineering, and math to fun projects and team exercises.
It’s worrisome that current figures predict a potentially devastating shortage of STEM-related innovators in the U.S. economy very soon. However, it’s encouraging to see schools, companies, organizations, and parents working together to help students gain interest and knowledge in STEM fields.