Encourage the Next Generation of STEM Professionals

A version of this blog post was originally published by www.biztimes.com.

We all know how important it is to get students interested in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math. But we also know that STEM doesn’t always have the best reputation among teens—with perceptions ranging from science being “hard” or boring. And yet, the news is not all bad.

Case in point. Every year ASQ surveys teenagers about various STEM topics. In our 2015 survey, 80 percent of teens said they admire engineers’ problem-solving abilities and 68 percent think engineers get paid a high salary. Only 38 percent, however, think that engineers can easily get a job.

To us at ASQ, the survey underscores that teens have at least some interest in STEM, but worry about the job market. Are their fears unwarranted? According to various sources, the U.S. may have a STEM skills shortage, and many such jobs are going unfilled. You can read more about the state of STEM jobs in the U.S. News and World Report and The Bayer Facts of Science Education XVI survey.

(And by the way, if you’re based outside of the U.S., I’m interested in the state of STEM in your country–are young people pursuing this field? Why or why not?)

So, what to do about this problem?  Note that unfilled STEM jobs slow down business growth, lower productivity, and lead to lower revenues–whether you’re a STEM business/employee or not. (Source is this infographic.) In ASQ’s 2014 Engineering Week survey, we asked our members to give engineering students some advice. I believe their advice is applicable nearly worldwide, and is also helpful to businesses that may be employing  students as interns or staff.

Be a mentor. Consider becoming a mentor, formally or informally.  For students, the “the best way to learn about leadership is by seeing it demonstrated in real life, not out of a book.”

Build relationships. Do you have a relationship with a local school, university, or STEM program? This can be a source of potential future interns, apprentices, and employees.

Consider STEM-related sponsorships. For example, a local doctor’s office might support students with a sponsorship to a Science Olympiad team or a small manufacturer might partner with students who are participating in a robotics club. You could also look into opportunities to speak about your own STEM-related field during career days at school.

Provide a business education. Students who go into STEM benefit from understanding business basics and how to communicate with the C-suite. Even if your business is not in the STEM field, any potential science student will gain from your knowledge and experience.

Educate yourself as a parent. Frequently, parents with no background in STEM fields are not aware of the opportunities in those areas, and consequently do not educate their kids in the vast career opportunities available. If your child shows interest in math or science, it’s time to read up on the different career paths available. Does your child want to be a mechanical or civil engineer? What about a career in nanotechnology, biomechanics, or astrophysics?  There are so many choices available and you should start educating yourself so that you can have informed conversations with your children.

Businesses can play an important role in helping to encourage the next generation of STEM professionals. It’s time to step up to the plate.

7 thoughts on “Encourage the Next Generation of STEM Professionals”

  1. A great opportunity to for STEM outreach is offered via the Civil Air Patrol’s Aerospace Education program. CAP the official civilian volunteer auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and is a 501c(3) not for profit. It is possible to join as an Aerospace Education Member and gain access to an enormous curriculum and free teaching materials covering astronomy, robotics, satellite technology, weather, and aerospace science. Aerospace Education Membership is open to both professional educators, and anyone else who teaches or interacts with youth organizations. Youth group leaders (church / scouts / etc) and homeschool teachers are eligible to join.

    Information is available on http://www.capmembers.com
    Follow the link for Aerospace Education!
    I am a CAP Aerospace Education Officer, and teach the STEM topics internally within CAP, and externally to any youth organization that is interested in a single presentation of setting up a program.

  2. Undeniably one of the greatest quality challenges in the U.S. is a skilled workforce who has a passion for their jobs. So how do you create a pipeline of future talent?

    One key is to widen the pipeline. We need more students in high school thinking about STEM careers. So many of our solutions are focused on the students that are already inspired. They are already on track. So a job shadow or internship helps solidify their desire…but it doesn’t expand the base.

    At Junior Achievement, we are committed to expanding the base. In South Central PA we launched a program for freshmen in high school focused on STEM careers. It’s a daylong seminar with every student at grade level participating. This year we will reach 5,000 students.

    What makes the day even more special is that is fun! Nine thirty minute modules of competitions, experiments, and career panelist. Hands on science and math.

    The question for ASQ members will be, do you want to make a difference? This program is volunteer led and so we need 30 volunteers per summit.

    The program is expanding nationally next year and JA areas are in the process of signing up. Check out our website for information or take a look at this youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3u2L3iGf97o

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