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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Do We Promote STEM Careers?

In Bill Troy’s post this month on ASQ's blog he highlights the importance of STEM careers in business. STEM represents the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM education encourages a curriculum that is driven by problem solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and student-centered development of ideas and solutions. The saturation of technology in most fields means that all students – not just those who plan to pursue a STEM profession – will require a solid foundation in STEM to be productive members of the workforce.

I couldn't agree with Bill more myself. I am an engineer (chemical) by formal education so this hits home for me. STEM fields have become increasingly central to U.S. economic competitiveness and growth. Education in math and science is critical to our nation’s future success. Bill notes a recent ASQ survey that found a lack of yong people believe their jobs in STEM fields. Our nation needs to increase the supply and quality of “knowledge workers” whose specialized skills enable them to work productively within the STEM industries and occupations.

There is broad consensus that the long-term key to continued U.S. competitiveness in an increasingly global economic environment is the adequacy of supply and the quality of the workforce in the STEM fields. Scientific innovation has produced roughly half of all U.S. economic growth in the last 50 years (National Science Foundation 2004). The STEM fields and those who work in them are critical engines of innovation and growth: according to one recent estimate, while only about five percent of the U.S. workforce is employed in STEM fields, the STEM workforce accounts for more than fifty percent of the nation’s sustained economic growth (Babco 2004).

Everyone needs a strong foundation in science and mathematics accompanied by familiarity with their applications to engineering and technology to be productive contributors in business and society. Since the 1960s, the demand for skills has changed significantly – the demand for routine manual task skills have decreased, while the demand for non-routine interactive task skills have increased significantly. However, as jobs requiring a solid background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are growing – more students are choosing not to major in these areas. If students continue to pursue degrees and careers in fields other than STEM related areas, the U.S. will find it difficult to compete in the global economy.

In order to grow this field we need to recognize the achievements of those in STEM fields and raise awareness for the continual need for these individuals in the future. Companies need to encourage young people to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to give their company a competitive advantage.  As good stewards in our community we need to foster this belief in our youth.

Businesses can create enthusiasm among our youth about the STEM fields through small, effective, low-cost methods.

Be a mentor. Mentoring can occur during the recruitment phase, and it can occur with your internal talent. Mentoring is a common activity, but the key to its success is the proper alignment of the mentee with your experienced staff.

Provide classes and webinars. Encourage employees to discuss new technologies related to their career fields in webinars. Online classes conducted by employees in different departments can provide demonstrations of techniques and new technologies.

Open your doors.  Allow students to visit your business and learn what your employees do. Let them see STEM careers in action.

Companies can leverage their resources, including their employees’ time or donated funds and products, to support STEM initiatives in a variety of ways.

I encourage you to take some time to think about how you encourage the need for STEM related fields.  Is there more we can do? 

I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

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