Students today are twice as likely as their parents to enter a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics industry, which is good news to the organizations creating more jobs in these fields each year. The problem, though, is that there won't be enough workers to fill all of the STEM jobs in the near future, according to estimates.
Manufacturing jobs will continue to increase, but by 2025, up to 2 million of them will remain vacant as employers struggle to find qualified candidates. That makes preparing current students for STEM fields more important than ever. Today’s youth might be interested in math and science, but that doesn't mean a whole lot if they don’t have the right skills when they enter the workforce. And manufacturing professionals have the power to help them develop those skills early.
Ninety percent of teachers believe a STEM education is vital to any industry. With the right strategies, manufacturers can help teachers close the skills gap. Today's students are most heavily influenced by their teachers when it comes to majors or career paths. Whether or not they pursue STEM careers is dependent upon their access to programs at school. Manufacturers can take a few steps to partner with educators to improve students' STEM understanding and their exposure to the jobs available to them.
1. Give teachers applicable resources. It sounds simple, but materials geared toward helping students see how they can put STEM skills into practice in the workplace is a good start. Students need resources that not only provide practical, real-world experience, but also teach them the value of math and science in every field.
Hands-on experiences make great resources, and videos about STEM careers demonstrate how to put math to work. One example of a great partnership is Northwestern University's STEAM program in which faculty members team up with elementary and secondary schools to provide training to educators who want to implement STEAM programs at their schools.
2. Partner with tech-heavy schools. Because schools are the talent pool for future employees, companies should do more than just show up on career day and tell the class what they do. By partnering with schools that are technically advanced, employers can enlighten students about a career they didn’t even know existed.
Mars Inc., for instance, has cultivated relationships with more than 20 technical schools for this reason. Students interested in a STEM field might not have considered working for a manufacturer of candy bars and other products, but with a hands-on introduction from the company, they might develop a clear academic path. Building strong connections with a variety of schools, then, is a top priority for any manufacturing company.
3. Start early. None of these strategies should be limited to high school students. In fact, it’s never too early to help children become creative, scientific thinkers. Students should be introduced to STEM career options well before high school, according to a majority of teachers. Doing so could not only wire their brains to embrace innovative technology, but it could also eradicate stereotypes, like the idea that STEM fields apply more to boys than girls or that those who like math and science are “nerds.”
That’s why Lego Education includes guides with the products they provide schools. Teachers use Lego sets to build lesson plans that engage students and pique the interest of those who never considered a STEM career path before. This way, starting early doesn’t have to be a painful introduction to tougher subjects.
4. Visualize success for students. Teachers and manufacturers can explain the importance of a STEM career, but students should get a firsthand look at these jobs to understand their value. While the resources you provide educators will hone students’ critical thinking skills, painting a picture of success in a STEM field shows them that those skills are essential outside the classroom.
Manufacturing Day is an initiative designed to facilitate this change. Every year, teachers and students visit manufacturing plants to learn about the importance of the industry. In 2016, 89 percent of students left the event with a better understanding of available manufacturing jobs. Creating an open-door policy between schools and manufacturing plants engages students.
Of course, none of these strategies will work overnight. It’ll take time to develop the next generation of leaders in every major industry. The collaboration between educators and manufacturing professionals is a big step in the right direction. When exposed to these skills and given the ability to experience STEM, students won’t just become more interested in math and science — they’ll be inspired to drive innovation and change the world.
Kristina James is director of marketing at MDR.