STEM & vocational skills gaps: The importance of early education

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techwomanThe availability of workers with expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or what we commonly refer to as STEM skills, is in decline. The demand, on the other hand, is increasing rapidly. In fact, according to this Business Insider article, a little over 9 million baby-boomers have retired over the past six years, and one-fifth of baby-boomers will retire in the coming years, making this quite an alarming trend.

The jobs exist, but often they cannot be filled because of a lack of STEM or other vocational skills in the emerging workforce. These skills gaps can have very harmful effects on the job market and global economy. All is not lost though, and the future seems rather optimistic.

How can we help fill those gaps and get the next generation of workers involved and interested in STEM-related careers?

Building a foundation

Children are the workers of tomorrow and it is crucial to get them involved in learning and understanding the skills they will need in order to succeed in the global workforce. Kids are generally curious and drawn to science and engineering but unfortunately the interest often fades away as they get older.

Building a robust foundation with a focus on STEM skills will provide today’s children, teens, and young adults with an array of lucrative and stimulating careers. Not only are those skills in high demand, the study of STEM will also help them develop initiative, critical thinking, teamwork and problem solving – which are skills that are often quite high on a hiring manager’s list of requirements, no matter the industry.

Getting young girls involved is also of critical importance as there is a shortage of women in STEM fields. Early exposure to computer science, engineering and mathematics has shown to be a contributing factor to reducing attrition and increasing retention of girls in STEM and other vocational fields.

“[…] leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in math, science, technology, and engineering.” — President Barack Obama, 2010 (source)

Inspiring & motivating tomorrow’s workforce

Fortunately, many organizations are working hard to raise awareness about the issue, especially to get kids involved and learning more about those fields. Some organizations like STEM for Kids even offer after school programs, summer camps, and in-school workshops.

Non-profits such as Million Women Mentors, Girls Who Code and Project Lead the Way are doing a fantastic job in raising awareness as well as getting girls and young women interested in STEM fields. According to Million Women Mentors, growth in STEM jobs has been three times greater than non-STEM jobs in the past 10 years.

There are many other organizations and websites offering resources about STEM skills, from articles to classes and mentoring programs:

  • The STEM-Works team developed a web portal that supports volunteers that are working in their local communities to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in our nation’s youth.
  • Successful STEM Education provides information, events, and resources that highlight promising practices and tools in support of effective K-12 STEM education in schools and programs.
  • The STEM Education Coalition works aggressively to raise awareness about the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the U.S. to remain an economic and technological leader.

Also, many STEM jobs have, for the longest time, been viewed as being male-dominated, but this trend is slowly changing. As a matter of fact, women are known to be just as successful as men in STEM-related careers.

The future is bright

While there are still many challenges ahead of us, both in overcoming the skills gaps, and getting children and young adults, especially girls, interested in STEM and other vocational fields, the future is looking bright. Mainstream media is increasingly profiling successful men and women working in STEM fields, which contributes to generating interest in those fields, especially in the younger generation. Recently we received over 575 applications for our Future Engineers Scholarship — which nearly quadrupled the previous year’s submission totals — further proof young people are dedicating their future to STEM careers.

An education with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics early on will prepare children for the technological challenges and innovations they will see in their lifetime.

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