With an estimated 14 million people currently out of work in the US, how can there still be a shortage of qualified workers to fill STEM positions? The disconnect was one topic discussed at last week’s STEM Solutions 2012 leadership summit in Dallas. Leaders seemed to agree that inspiring students to follow an educational path in STEM subjects is key to solving the crisis. But the question of the role that companies might play in enticing and helping to cultivate talent is still unanswered.
In terms of where, specifically, the talent gaps are, experts are divided. Many cite math as an area in which American students are lacking, pointing to the emphasis on standardized testing — rather than real-world applications — as the measure of our students’ math ability.
Several possible solutions to the problem of the shortage of trained STEM workers were voiced at the summit. Among them: creating university/industry partnerships, promoting STEM careers among students, and enhancing STEM education in grades K-12. Some participants felt that companies should bear some of the responsibility for communicating their needs clearly and coming up with innovative hiring practices and training programs. “Industry really needs to engage in a much closer relationship with educational institutions,” said Melinda Hamilton (photo, above), director of Idaho National Laboratory’s education programs. “They have to share their strategic plans. They have to share their growth projections and why they’re predicting this area will grow. They have to be involved in saying not just ‘Here’s what we need,’ but also how we get it.”
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