Many organizations are tackling the STEM shortfall in this country head-on. Whether it is running hands-on workshops for elementary school students, opening new STEM-focused schools, or participating in a wide variety of programs to keep students on-track and interested in STEM subjects, the American education system has never been more focused on success in science, technology, engineering, and math than it is right now. However, is this focus enough to bridge the job gap, or are additional steps needed to make sure that what students learn matches what they will need to know?
More employers are starting to see the first crop of the new STEM generation enter the workforce, but the results have been mixed. While some have been prepared to take on jobs in the STEM community immediately, some still lag behind in skills needed. One possible explanation for this disconnect is the distance that still exists between the business and education communities. A recent case in Seattle showed that Boeing needed more local workers to be trained and knowledgeable in aerospace technology. This led to a last-minute deal with Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the state legislature to provide $5 million for an aerospace training center, $8 million for 1,000 new community college slots in aerospace-related fields, and $500,000 for a new composite-wing training at the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center. This sort of responsive leadership is what is needed to make sure that students are on-track for success in the STEM marketplace.
However, these sorts of initiatives cannot continue to be created after a problem has already arisen; instead, policymakers, business leaders, and educators need to work together to determine what the future workforce will need to know and to prepare students accordingly. This initiative will provide great dividends in the future, but it does little to solve the knowledge gap in the workforce in the short term. In this particular case, Marty Brown who acts as executive director for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges in Washington state said that they "don't know enough, and [they] don't know enough soon enough." Better communication between all stakeholders in the STEM world could perhaps have led to this not becoming an issue in the first place.
Luckily, there are signs that some institutions are preparing the way for greater preparation of STEM students to have necessary workplace skills. A recent talk at the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, educators and business leaders spoke about the need to combine STEM knowledge with business skills so that STEM workers can excel in the business world and perhaps rise to C-level executive positions. Whether this comingling knowledge happens through joint degrees, specialization, or storytelling training, it is encouraging to see that schools and business are combining forces to combat a perceived knowledge gap before it becomes an unstoppable problem in tomorrow's workforce.
Job growth is expanding on a consistent basis, perhaps displaying that the United States is leaving the Great Recession behind and emerging once more into a period of economic growth. Growth in the economy typically translates to more available jobs, but this is only useful to the unemployed workforce if they have requisite skills and knowledge necessary to take up these careers as they become available. To this end, the White House is devoting over $150 million toward STEM efforts that will increase the readiness of tomorrow's STEM workforce. However, money and government alone cannot solve this problem. By increasing the amount of communication between business leaders, policymakers, and educators, more students can be on-track for workplace success after graduation from high school and college. No one is suggesting that schools need to become factories that only teach STEM subjects and that only give students the skills that are in-demand for the moment; however, this must be a part of each student's educational background because schools must enable them to function and thrive in the future workforce. After all, if tomorrow's students cannot fill these gaps, America may lose its technological edge that has made it the home for STEM advancement for more than 100 years.