Bridging Technology and Education for the Future
Since the term was first introduced in 2001, STEM has proved itself to be a vital cornerstone of education across the United States and Canada. The acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is widely used today by politicians, industry, teachers, and students in discussions about the importance of STEM education and jobs involving STEM.
Many believe the future of much of the world’s economy is dependent on implementing better STEM programs in schools, as students will be using that STEM education in today’s ever-changing workplace.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that there would be 1.2 million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2018, but not enough qualified graduates to fill them. Others concurred, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which stated in 2015 and again recently that there were almost 8.6 million STEM jobs, representing 6.2 percent of American employment. Computer-based positions accounted for almost forty-five percent of STEM employment, followed by engineering at nineteen percent. Math-related employment includes architects, cartographers, and surveyors.
For employers, STEM studies in schools must be a priority today, as it represents forthcoming innovation and job creation. Today, seven out of ten of the biggest STEM occupations are computer related. There will be a need for American, Canadian, and international students in public and private schools, college, and university to pursue studies in STEM-related fields to better meet the demands of the workplace in high-technology, science, engineering, and math.
In recent years, twenty-five percent of U.S. technology start-ups were founded by immigrants, and this has led to the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs across North America. STEM studies are not only good for broadening the minds of young people, but also for bolstering the ranks for future employers.
As technology and science increasingly become more important in our daily lives, school boards and academic institutions across the U.S. and Canada are demonstrating a keen interest in STEM-related studies for students. Part of the challenge is to create programs which are both well-rounded and exciting for students, from secondary school all the way to university.
And more than just schools and employers realize the importance of STEM. In 2009, former U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed STEM significance in his ‘Educate to Invest’ speech. “Around the world, there is a hunger for knowledge, an insistence on excellence, a reverence for science and math and technology, and learning. That used to be what we were about. That’s what we’re going to be about again,” he said.
This February, President Donald Trump reinforced Obama’s words with the Presidential Memorandum on STEM Education, pledging a minimum of $200 million in grant money and an additional $20 million grant for STEM-based career and technical programs. In his earlier Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Education (issued on September 25, 2017), President Trump emphasized the importance of access to STEM programs.
“A key priority of my administration is to better equip America’s young people with the relevant knowledge and skills that will enable them to secure high‑paying, stable jobs throughout their careers,” stated the President. “With the growing role of technology in driving the American economy, many jobs increasingly require skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) – including, in particular, computer science. These skills open the door to jobs, strengthening the backbone of American ingenuity, driving solutions to complex problems across industries, and improving lives around the world.”
Reiterating the importance of STEM for future employment, Trump lamented that too many elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students across America lack access to high-quality STEM education, “and thus are at risk of being shut out from some of the most attractive job options in the growing United States economy.” The lack of computer science education particularly affects minorities, African-Americans, and female students, who do not have adequate access to these classes.
Among the solutions is for departments of education across the U.S. to make STEM programs a focus, as these skills will enable students to successfully achieve certification in those key areas which will lead to jobs in STEM fields. For students to receive the best possible education at the secondary level, more investment is needed, particularly in schools in economically depressed areas of the country.
At the post-secondary level, colleges and universities continue to embrace STEM-based education, offering a wealth of courses in advanced manufacturing and automation technology, manufacturing engineering technology, automated manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and engineering technologies, and other related areas.
When they were public and high school students many baby boomers were taught math, English, history, science, and hands-on classes which often included practical instruction in auto repair basics, plumbing, electrical, woodwork, and fabrication. Over the years, these classes stopped, with students about to graduate high school being encouraged to pursue white collar university education in law, medicine, or economics, as opposed to blue-collar college classes in carpentry, welding, or other trades. Over the past thirty-plus years, this has resulted in a serious knowledge gap, and a shortage of workers in many industry sectors, manufacturing in particular. No longer the old ‘3D’s – dirty, dangerous, and demeaning – manufacturing today is clean, performed in bright spaces, and above all, embraces technology.
To call the shortfall in skilled manufacturing workers critical is an understatement. While trades like plumbing and welding continue to be in demand, there is also a shortage of workers in advanced manufacturing work like computer operating machinists, computer numerical control (CNC) experts, designers, and others. The reality is that manufacturing across the world is changing rapidly, and more young women and men with core skills in the STEM fields are needed.
With growing worldwide demand from industries for graduates with backgrounds and marketable skills in technology, engineering, math and science, schools have no choice but to listen and respond with classes covering these subjects. The challenge is being able to pay for the necessary tools, such as computers, that will provide students with the knowledge to compete for jobs in the future.
Parents of children in low-income and rural school districts have little, if any, disposable income, receive free or subsidized lunches, have high teen pregnancy rates and considerable unemployment. For these groups, STEM education will positively influence the lives and future of their children.
In response, some schools have created special STEM programs aimed at the groups with high at-risk indicators, and using the limited resources, have purchased tablets, three-dimensional (3D) printers, and other associated technology. According to one report, a school district in Boston has seen every STEM student graduate, and ninety-five percent gained acceptance into college. Fortunately, industry across North America is becoming more involved with education, encouraging schools to teach classes in engineering, high-tech manufacturing, and other areas to fill the need for workers in the coming years.