Thursday, February 9, 2012

STEM Summit- Day 1

For the next couple days, I am participating in a state-wide STEM Summit, aimed at K-12 educators, Community College and Voc. Tech schools.  The focus of the summit is more Aerospace and Energy, but it is interesting to hear employers discuss the future of the workforce, and specifically their needs of the mid- and entry-level applicants.  Just to be clear, I'm not participating because I think these people should be telling me how to get a job, but because I really believe that Science affords us the engine for innovation, and that STEM careers can and should be open to a wider range of the population to support a strong economy.  That being said, I was pretty well baffled when I heard employers (Boeing, Tacoma Light etc.) saying We need people to enter trades!  Please!

This certainly wasn't something I heard when I was in high school, but the modern "trade school" is very technical.  That's why they earn such a solid salary (average in WA state for all "STEM" professionals, $76,000/yr in contrast to the state average of $55,000- and the jobs are dominated by those that require only a 2 year certificate).  But the two major barriers for getting people into these jobs is perception and pre-reqs.  Admit it- you kinda think trade school isn't brainy, or doesn't provide middle class jobs.  But running a hydroelectric dam doesn't require a degree in engineering these days.  Maybe that means that yuppies are paying for college degrees while thse seats at Trades Schools are being filled by those who can't afford it- but those students still need to have gotten a C in Algebra and be capable of learning and performing very technical tasks.  Students who go through the two year program are prepared to make twice as much money as that prissy communications degree and in half the time.  Not bad, right?  We focused on this gap of perception and pre-reqs today- teachers begging for more info to distribute to their students about these very good jobs that don't require a 2400 SAT score, and industry begging the teachers to get those kids the science and math skills they will need to get into those programs. (I hope it was eye-opening for both sides, it was for me.)

Sure, the industry buffs would waffle a little on "what should we train the next graduates to do." The pace that technology changes in these industries is hard to keep up with for those working in it.  It's nearly impossible to hone training programs to accommodate that level of fluidity.  Ok, so you might not be able to a Nano-Circuitry-Informatics-Fitter Certification from your local community college.  But, they kept harping on the same skills that would make a person succeed in the long run at any level.
  • Curiosity, passion, excitement for the field (which means staying abreast of those changes, be they in advanced manufacturing or rocket science)
  • Project management, team work and collaboration
  • Technical communication-"The only classes you take in college that are still relevant 5 years later are technical writing and Public Speaking!"
Those are the skills for the "jobs of the future," and will be important for everything from Green power generation to the colonization of Mars.  And it made me feel like outreach efforts by people like me who can find ways to make science look fun and stay interesting to students at risk of hating it might do more then just make the school day run smoother, it might pave the way for a stronger economy.  Scientists!- Go judge at your local science fair or drop by for career night- it's for the Good of America!

1 comment:

  1. I think the problem is reaching out to the kids who are not at the science fair, that is talking to the students who haven't registered for the science/mathematics courses (and doing it early, as in Grade 9). Career night is definitely an option.. however, as a post-doc looking for a "career" I don't yet feel I'm in a position to go to career night! :( I do love to promote science though, and agree with you in that regard.