The Obama administration and the nation’s technology firms openly acknowledge that there is a shortage of qualified U.S. workers needed to fill openings for high-paying jobs in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as the STEM fields.
This trend promises to continue and worsen in the future based on the selected areas of study at the undergraduate level. It is primarily caused by the lack of women and other minorities pursuing careers in the STEM fields.
According to the Girls Get IT initiative developed through the Florida Distance Learning Consortium and Cisco Systems, 75 percent of future jobs in the nation will require technology. But fewer than one-third of students in computer courses are female, and women make up only 20 percent of IT professionals and 13 percent of engineers. The research also shows that all children enjoy and excel equally in STEM subjects through 4th grade.
Other companies and nonprofit organizations have joined Cisco in addressing the need for more students to pursue careers in the STEM fields, including Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense, PPG Industries’ STEMconnectorTM and the Girls Scouts of America’s partnership with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). All of these organizations serve as strong role models for other companies and nonprofits to emulate.
Awareness and support of these programs are the first steps to placing more women and minorities into STEM fields. Speaking as the CEO of my own high-tech firm, it is difficult to pursue a job in a STEM area unless you have the necessary educational background and support system from the community and local businesses.
Also it is the responsibility of educators and guidance counselors to promote STEM fields as fun and full of opportunities. According to a recent study by Bayer, many young people do not go into STEM fields because they were “deterred by early discouragement and traditional STEM teaching approaches.” Specifically, many have the perception that the jobs are “hard” and difficult. When in reality, science and technology are everywhere and easy to incorporate into classroom activities. This integration is being achieved in some schools but not all and not at a national level.
Finally, the government should provide aid and incentives to companies, schools and individuals to promote the STEM fields. Specifically, the government should provide educational aid for individuals to become science teachers. It should offer tax credit to small businesses that invest in training teachers and providing STEM programs in K-12. Government assistance could also help businesses fund internships to expose young people to jobs that utilize STEM knowledge areas.
Through government support and the support of local business of all sizes, we can reverse the current educational trend and encourage more women and minorities into the STEM fields.
Michele McGough is CEO of Pittsburgh-based solutions4networks, specialists in data, VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) and wireless network professional services and provider of network security services.