The road to a rewarding career is an uphill battle. When a person’s education begins, the preparation for achieving that dream career also commences. Students have to be aware of the important fields where promising professions abound, and must therefore, get ready to join the workforce. Many of the jobs in the market require mathematics and science – two subjects that most of us indubitably dread in our younger years. It is because of this that improving STEM education is currently being pursued. But what is STEM and how important is it?
What is STEM?
The acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM encompasses physical sciences, life sciences outside of medical sciences, mathematics, statistics, engineering, and computing. It may also include relevant managerial fields, manufacturing and processing areas, as well as building and architecture.
Nowadays, the heavily globalized economy is in need of people with knowledge and skills that drive innovation. Majority of the economic progress that the United States, for instance, has gained over the recent decades is attributed to enhanced productivity brought about by innovation. People that have brought innovation to the table are those equipped with STEM or science, technology, engineering, and math abilities.
STEM has contributed to the vast advances in computer and information technology and biomedical technology. To be able to carry on with the current improvements and come up with new technologies, a continuous stream of workforce that is equipped with STEM-related knowledge and capacity will be necessitated. Because of such important role that STEM-related skills play in the continuance of economic progress, potential workers are greatly encouraged to build an edge in these areas while still at school.
The Demand for STEM Workers
The demand for STEM occupations is seen to expand by 17 percent between 2010 and 2020. This is based on new data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, STEM occupations are projected to outgrow non-STEM employment, which is projected to grow by only 14 percent. Jobs in computing and mathematic fields are projected to grow by 20 percent on top of the employment gained notwithstanding the recession. Also, based on surveys and reports of business organizations and related groups, both workers that have highly specialized abilities and general knowledge of STEM-related concepts are on high demand. Even with the most recent recession, a survey on manufacturing firms shows that over a third of these were having shortages in terms of scientists and engineers. Most of these firms expect even greater shortages in the future.
Causes of Shortages in STEM Workers
The percentage of students pursuing STEM degrees is declining. Despite the improvement in access to higher education in the U.S., the share of STEM-related bachelor degrees fell from 24 percent in 1985 to 18 percent in 2009. That for the master’s degrees also went down from 18 to 14 percent during the same period. Even if the trend for STEM doctorates was more stable than the others, there were more foreign-born students getting those degrees than domestic ones. The share of domestic students has gone down from 74 to 54 percent in 2006. These foreign-born learners may not fill the shortage of needed STEM workers but instead bring their skills back to their home countries.
In addition to the shortage of STEM workers, STEM employers also face shortages because non-STEM employers also demand STEM graduates at an increasing rate. This resulted to an increasing number of STEM graduates getting employed in non-STEM areas.
Why the Unites States is Falling Short in STEM
To remain competitive in the global economy, countries like the United States need to build a strong workforce in STEM. But educators and policymakers face immense challenges. In an earlier survey, majority of manufacturing companies noted that students in public education system do not get sufficient preparation for them to gain the math and science proficiency required so they can succeed in their career.
Indeed, a government document has cited that the curriculum in science and technology in K-12 is not sufficient. A strong foundation in these subjects in both elementary and secondary levels is very important in pursuing careers in STEM. One of the problems is the difficulty to draw and retain teachers who are trained in STEM. The opportunities elsewhere are much more attractive for them. Also, there are not enough math and science K-12 teachers who have adequate educational background in STEM. Also, they may not have hands-on experience in STEM. A study by the National Science Foundation shows that over one-third of science teachers and 30 percent of math teachers in middle school still need more in-field training.
There is also the need to communicate the advantages of STEM education to students. Students in higher education may not have all the information they need in terms of career choices. Mentoring is a very important aspect of promoting STEM. Also, students may need more hands-on activities in school to stimulate their interest in these subjects.
The Promises of STEM Occupations
There are a number of reasons why students must opt for STEM careers. To exemplify, the unemployment in these fields is much lower and the wages are relatively higher. During the course of the latest recession, the unemployment rate among STEM workers peaked in 2009 at 5.5 percent while that for non-STEM workers went as high as 10 percent in 2010. The fields in STEM that were seen to be recession-proof include mathematical and computer occupations. The average wage of STEM workers was 26 percent higher than non-STEM occupations in 2010. This was true even after accounting for differences in gender, age, race, industry, location, and union membership. This difference was shown to have increased over time.
The future that awaits STEM graduates is getting brighter by the day. As far as students are concerned, STEM occupations are very essential to improve their chances at obtaining vast and growing opportunities in these fields. On the part of the U.S. government, there is a long list to do to ensure that the country can produce the kind of workforce it needs to sustain and further the innovation that has brought itself to dominate within the global economic context.