You may have recently seen or heard news coverage on the urgent need for more skilled workers trained in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. The CNN/ Fortune magazine Web site recently wrote about it and NPR member station WAMU in Washington also weighed in with a report on The Diane Rehm Show.
If the bad news is that there is currently a shortage of STEM-educated workers, the good news is that there are many novel programs — both new and established — to encourage and promote STEM education and to help train and prepare students for the growing science and technology job market. And key to many of these initiatives are partnerships between education and industry.
For example, in 2009, the White House launched the Educate to Innovate campaign to help promote programs to “grow” America’s scientific and technological workforce, with a goal of cultivating as many as 3 million skilled workers by 2018. One component of this campaign is Change the Equation, a nonprofit, non-partisan CEO-led initiative which collaborates with educators and communities across the country to develop programs to inspire students’ interest in science and technology. One of the programs, the Science Career Ladder turns high-school and college-age students into “Explainers” where they work at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, New York, to help guide visitors through the scientific exhibits. Similarly, the Engineering is Elementary program launched by the Museum of Science in Boston provides younger children with curricula in key engineering concepts. Lessons cover subjects from the design of water filters and parachutes to how to clean up an oil spill, introducing sophisticated — and important — engineering concepts to more than 1 million students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Similar partnerships are leading to new training programs in the manufacturing field. The Department of Energy recently announced a series of new manufacturing job training partnerships (together with the Manufacturing Institute, the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies and Macomb Community College) to provide students with virtual technician training as well as other interactive materials in a variety of STEM areas.
The Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Program helped pave the way for these successful models. Created in 1992 to improve the productivity of American high-tech industries by “growing” the nation’s work force, the ATE program today has 39 centers around the country providing training for a wide variety of cutting-edge industries, from agriculture to biotechnology, to cyber security and new energy technologies. According to recent findings, in 2010, ATE Centers educated more than 70,000 students, including 60 percent at community colleges. ATE also offered programs at more than 1,250 educational institutions nationwide – 50 percent at two-year colleges. ATE also developed more than 2,300 curriculum materials and served more than 58,000 educators.
One of the keys to ATE success has always been its close working relationships with industry: by understanding employers’ expectations for technicians now and in the future, ATE helps formulate new strategies and develop new programs to ensure that students enter the workforce with the knowledge and skills necessary for success. AgrowKnowledge is a great example. This ATE Center works closely with its Industry Partners Council to identify employers’ needs, define skill requirements and prepare students for careers in precision agriculture, biotechnology, alternative energy production and natural resource management — agricultural fields that have grown increasingly more technical in recent years.
And that’s good news, indeed.