By Thomas Lichtenberger, CEO, Festo Didactic, Inc.
This is part one in a three-part series about closing the STEM skills gap. Parts 2 and 3, on what colleges and universities and employers can do, respectively, to prepare students for the jobs of the future, can be found here and here.
The jobs of the future are in STEM! Today’s students are the workforce of tomorrow, and preparing for the diverse and growing set of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers is important to their future success. There are approximately 26 million STEM jobs when positions in manufacturing, construction, and other skilled labor positions are included, according to the Brookings Institution. However, as today’s employers struggle to fill the available STEM jobs they have, there is growing concern over a widening STEM skills gap.
This is the first installment of a three-part series that examines what can be done right now to decrease this gap. Over the course of the series, I’ll highlight realistic steps secondary and postsecondary educators and employers alike can take. This series begins with suggestions for high school teachers.
High school provides a rich opportunity to instill an early passion for STEM in all students. In a survey conducted by Microsoft, over half of all STEM college students credited a pre-college teacher or class for sparking their interest in STEM. Exploring STEM education can not only arm high school students with valuable skills that will serve them well in college, career, or any path in life, but also help them understand the world around them. To help more high school students learn the STEM skills they need, teachers can:
- Bring STEM to life – There are many benefits to learning by doing. STEM education lends itself uniquely to hands-on, project-based learning because it is guided by the engineering design process. In this process students identify problems, develop multiple solutions, select one to build and test, and keep revising the solution until it works. With this approach teachers can present real life challenges that involve an integrated STEM approach, combining all four disciplines to show students how each topic connects to each other inside and outside of the classroom.
- Foster a love for STEM in all students – Students who are girls, African American, Hispanic or Latino are often underrepresented in STEM careers. But these students often have a high degree of interest in STEM as teenagers. For example, a survey by the Girl Scout Research Initiative reports 74 percent of teen girls are interested in STEM. Engaging these students in STEM classes can help them close the STEM skills gap as well as the earnings gap with their white, male classmates.
- Discuss all STEM career paths – Most teachers think STEM careers are only jobs in coding, financial analysis, or traditional engineering. In reality, STEM careers include a much wider variety of paths. As technology has advanced in industries from manufacturing to healthcare to aeronautics, strong STEM skills have become important in even more careers. The postsecondary requirements of these careers also vary. Some STEM careers require a doctorate, while others need an associate’s degree or a certificate. An early introduction to STEM can help support students in finding the right career path.
- Advocate for more teacher training – Stronger teacher training in STEM subjects is essential to ensuring students are developing the skills they need for future jobs. STEM education, particularly aspects of technology and engineering, are not part of the traditional teacher training. As the importance of students having STEM skills increases, providing teachers more opportunities to deepen their own existing skills through quality professional development and updated curriculum is critical. With the support of parents and other community members, teachers can advocate for greater professional development and continuing education in STEM.
- Connect students to professionals in STEM careers – STEM careers are changing rapidly, often with the help of swiftly advancing technology. Arranging for students to meet STEM professionals inside or outside of the classroom can help them better understand these advancements and how they relate to what they are learning. Taking students on field trips to see the laboratories, offices, or smart factories where STEM professionals work or inviting engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and technologists to speak to students or participate in a specific project or lesson are all practical ways of building connections to STEM for students.
Job growth in STEM fields is expected to continue to outpace growth in other fields. While STEM teaches students how to engage in critical thinking and creative problem solving that will benefit them in careers in all sectors and fields, it will be especially vital knowledge for students preparing for the cross-functional, technical jobs of the future. Addressing the STEM skills gap now is the best way to ensure that our students are prepared for tomorrow.
About Festo Didactic
Festo Didactic is a leading provider of technical education equipment and training. Festo’s educational solutions evolved from its world-class automation and engineering division and integrates the latest trends in each learning system it offers. The innovative product range from Festo allows educators and trainers to equip their classroom with the technology they need, from individual workstations to complete Learning Factories, as well as training and consulting, eLearning, courseware solutions, and LMS integration. For more information visit https://www.festo-didactic.com/int-en/