Company Leaders Look to Kids for STEM Workforce

Encouraging STEM education at a younger age will build the skill sets needed in an increasingly tech-savvy world. 

TO FILL THE TECH JOBS of the future, company and nonprofit leaders advise employers to train ’em while they’re young.

At a panel about filling future science, technology, engineering and math job needs during the U.S. News & World Report STEM Solutions: Workforce of Tomorrow conference on Friday, Vince Bertram, president and CEO of nonprofit Project Lead the Way, said as more and more companies become tech-enabled, businesses need to support measures that will encourage students early on to pursue STEM-related studies – and later STEM careers – so that they will have a supply of workers to fill ever-growing job demands.

“As we think of STEM education … STEM is the foundation of our economy – it connects to everything. It’s not these discrete subjects, but a more integrative approach to education,” Bertram said during the session, which was moderated by Potoula Gjidija, associate director of corporate citizenship for biotech company Regeneron. “We have to make learning relevant to students … It’s not enough to make math worksheets.”

Bertram was joined on the panel by Patrick Barnes, program director for John Deere’s Global Youth Education program; Jon Chapman, co-founder and president of global partnerships for EVERFI, an education technology company; and Jennifer Taylor, vice president of U.S. Jobs for the Consumer Technology Association.

Taylor, pointing toward tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google, echoed Bertram and said promoting STEM education now will go toward filling the gap between the thousands of STEM-related job opportunities and the relatively small supply of skilled candidates.

“We don’t even know what jobs are about to present themselves, and we also know that … it is imperative that we are teaching our youth how to be digitally savvy and have the tech skills that they need so that they have those critical thinking skills,” Taylor said.

And, Barnes pointed out, the idea of businesses promoting or supporting STEM education doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to support students through a four-year college program. At John Deere, for example, Barnes said they offer some training programs, and graduates who complete the curriculum successfully are offered a job interview with the company.

“Welders, electricians – it’s so hard to fill those jobs today,” said Barnes.

As for addressing the opportunity gaps for underrepresented students, all four panelists agreed that, to make the fields more approachable for everyone, they have to offer training and education programs consistently across America, including in areas with low expectations for students. This would help to encourage a growth mindset – the concept that you continue to learn, and failure is OK – to break down those barriers.