A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Chris Burns: Business, educators must work together to solve STEM workforce shortages

Since the dawn of the digital age, employers have been concerned about the lack of skills young workers have coming out of both high school and college. Employers are saying the young employees have an entitlement mentality with expectations of making high salaries, but their lack of experience and work ethics are clearly drawbacks to even getting them employed.
The vast majority are still being pointed in the direction of a four-year degree, many in a liberal arts field where the job opportunities are limited.
The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related employers are in desperate need of trained workers, such that the shortages are currently well over one million nationwide. Just in Greater Cincinnati, the need for technical degrees is in the tens of thousands. Employers are unsure at this point that education can meet this demand in the short term, so many have created their own programs in partnership with colleges and high schools. However, many are not engaging or attracting enough students to make any real impact in the next few years.
If change is to occur, businesses should begin working closer with educators to create a system that effectively prepares graduates to continue learning and to succeed in the workplace and the community. This would create a long-term solution, but will take systemic changes at all levels.
Today, many educators are neither trained on applied or blended learning, nor getting enough professional development on how to use and maximize technology in the classroom. Inviting teachers into a workplace shadowing over a 7-14 day period during the summer recess gives them hands-on experience, which allows them to see firsthand how to apply the subjects they are teaching. Employers are hoping that colleges add a shadowing credit as part of the training for teachers.
This has proven successful in the past and participating teachers have actually changed their curriculum to reflect that approach. Applied learning is engaging for students and helps answer the question as to why STEM subjects are an important part of preparing them to succeed in the workplace.
Many education and workforce advocates believe the long-term solution is to begin exposing young students to different occupations in 4th-grade, then continuing that interaction through high school. This is not to pigeon-hole students, but to assess their abilities and present them with the choices where they would combine both their interest and ability.
The best employees at any level, in any industry have a passion for their work and know they are making a difference. This could begin the process of ensuring all students receive the knowledge and focus they need to ensure that the community remains vibrant and attractive to young workers and employers alike.
Chris Burns

Chris Burns is a marketing director and education advocate with CBTS. He is an active member of the Bluegrass Higher Education Consortium and the Northern Kentucky Education Council.

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