Letters: Employers can do more to encourage STEM skills

NOLA Oped

Originally published in The Advocate – May 22, 2019 

In 1979, 1 in 5 workers in the U.S. was in manufacturing, the backbone of the American economy. But as technology advanced, manufacturing evolved — minimizing the size of the products made and number of people required to make them.

Today, manufacturing is making a comeback, and the students who graduate from high school with strong science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills are perfectly positioned to take advantage of today’s labor market.

There’s just one problem: there aren’t enough skilled employees or students to fill them.

That’s why we need to reverse the K-12 trend of only preparing students to get into college, but not necessarily what comes afterward. Instead of narrowly thinking about our students’ future in terms of degrees and certifications, we have to ensure they have the technical skills needed to land high-tech, promising positions right after graduation.

Unfortunately, many students don’t know what jobs can come from a STEM education, and even if they think they have an idea, most don’t have an opportunity to try them out or acquire hands-on experience. This is where employers can intervene and simultaneously ensure they have a qualified future talent pool to choose from.

Consider talking to students early and often about job opportunities at your company. Engage them in conversations about the education and skills needed to get there, whether that’s a two-year degree plus some additional training, a four-year degree, or no degree at all. Partner with nearby high schools, colleges and universities and invite students to career fairs and facility tours. Create internship and apprenticeship programs that provide on-the-job experience that is just as, if not more, important than what students learn in the classroom.

Even something as simple as a written commitment can go a long way, providing students with inspiration and motivation to stay focused and work toward their goals. That’s why events like the inaugural New Orleans STEM Signing Day, presented by Boeing and powered by Tallo, are so important.

At events like this, high school seniors commit to pursuing a STEM degree at a two- or four-year college and are celebrated by elected officials and local business and community leaders. STEM Signing Days affirm that students understand the high value of a STEM education, important considering that by 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be 1.4 million computer science-related positions — not taking into account how quickly automation is reshaping the workforce — and only 400,000 college graduates qualified to fill them.

Investments and signing days that encourage students to acquire a higher-level, problem-solving STEM skill set is how we can stay ahead and develop technology that changes the world for the better. That is a true cause for celebration.

Jennifer Boland-Masterson

Boeing, director of production operations, Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans

Casey Welch

president, Tallo, South Carolina

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