Employers are increasingly looking for experts with STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math). However, there are not enough graduates to fill all the vacancies. On top of that, only 10 % of recent graduates in these fields go to work in STEM. What are schools and policy makers doing to close this gap?
The new technological revolution – the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution – is already fundamentally altering the way we live, work and interact with each other. This will affect the whole STEM industry and education in the near future. Some colleges are already addressing this issue by changing their curriculum to attract new students.
The question is how to spark the interest in STEM in the first place. To make STEM careers more appealing to younger audiences, for example, the Marvel Studios started an initiative to inspire young girls in science and technology after releasing the “Doctor Strange” movie. It was called “Doctor Strange” – The Magic of the STEM Challenge.
Even though the US has the top ranking schools in the world, according to the World Economic Forum, the United States is still far behind Russia in numbers of students. This statistic does not take China and India into consideration due to lack of data. Another way to make STEM interesting for students is to link it with sports through computer programs, after school activities or many other initiatives. Not everybody can be a pro athlete – but many students with STEM skills can have careers in sports, such as sports statistician, sports engineer, or material designer.
STEM Changes in Schools and Policies
In order to boost the US competitiveness in the STEM fields, the Congress passed the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act of 2007 followed by Reauthorization Act of 2010. It provided the framework for federal funding for research, education and activities in support of STEM.
Women are especially underrepresented in the STEM professions. Women earn only 18% of computer science degrees and 15.4% of architecture and engineering degrees. Consequently, the new administration passed two laws promoting women in STEM earlier this year. The goal was to increase the number of women in these fields. The Inspire the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers Women Act directs NASA to encourage women to get into STEM fields and space exploration. The second law, called Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act, recruits and supports women in their entrepreneurship efforts.
The National Academy of Engineering has recommended a few changes to meet society’s challenges. According to them, the engineer of 2020 will have to have reach a “higher bar in education”. This should include good communication skills, leadership, flexibility, and the pursuit of lifelong learning. They also highlighted professions with great potential and challenges future engineers will have to tackle. For example, making solar energy economical, advancing health informatics, preventing nuclear terror, enhancing virtual reality, or providing access to clean water.