What if someone told you there were three jobs available for every unemployed person in a particular field of work? And that, outside of this particular field of work, the opposite is true: Only one job is available for every 3.7 unemployed people?
I would guess you'd want to know what kind of work we'd be talking about.
Leland Melvin, former astronaut and currently associate administrator for education at NASA, was the keynote speaker at this year's STEMTech conference in Kansas City. He shared this compelling statistic about the many jobs available in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee published "STEM Education: Preparing for the Jobs of the Future" in April. For this report, the focus was on life sciences (except medical sciences), physical sciences, computing, engineering, and mathematics and statistics.
The Department of Commerce includes certain STEM-related managerial occupations, while the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development also includes manufacturing and processing, and architecture and building, which are not included in this report.
Whether or not you use the broadest definition of STEM, these jobs provide opportunities for those willing to gain the training and education needed to be successful. Here are some compelling reasons to build your STEM skills:
• Demand is projected to increase in the future.
• STEM jobs lead to lower levels of unemployment and higher wages.
• The supply of STEM talent is not keeping up with demand.
So as educators, how do we help build our students' skills in STEM? First, encourage creative thinking throughout a student's education. At a breakout session at the STEM conference we were given 15 Legos. We were asked to take the red and yellow Legos and build a duck. Excitement took over. The main point was no two ducks were the same. Each person had a different view of what a duck made of Legos should look like, and no one was wrong.
Second, when educating students, provide the connections in their classwork that help them to realize they are doing math, science, engineering and technology every day. They just don't realize it. A school project often involves a scientific approach to fact gathering, technology applications (video, blogs, computer presentations) to present findings and math skills to organize the data. Although schools are doing a great job of embedding scientific process into everyday work, are students making that connection?
Finally, remove obstacles that may inhibit participation. According to the Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey, women compose 48 percent of the U.S. workforce but just 24 percent of STEM workers.
There is a similar under representation of Hispanic and black non-Hispanic workers in the STEM workforce. Each group accounts for only 6 percent of STEM workers, but 14 and 11 percent of overall employment, respectively.
So what are the next steps? Engage K-12 students in STEM activities that charge them with excitement and stimulate their continued interest in moving up the educational ladder. Help them and their parents answer the questions of why STEM. And, finally, as Dr. Julio R. Blanco, dean of the School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering at California State University - Bakersfield, noted in his closing remarks at the STEMTech conference, engage them, educate them and - the overall goal - employ them.
Sue Schmidt is an instructional chair at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle.