A STEM Agenda:
Connecting STEM with Workforce Education
Why This Conference?
Harvard & MIT Agree
Researchers affiliated with two of the nation’s most prestigious institutes of learning recently assessed public education in the United States and in the State of Washington. While working independently of each other, they arrived at remarkably similar conclusions about our need to:
These recommendations will be translated into action items at the STEM Agenda conference May 19 at the Georgetown Campus of South Seattle Community College.
The event will feature the researchers, William Symonds of the Pathways to Prosperity Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Dan Sturtevant with the MIT Engineering Systems Division. It will bring them together with education leaders and managers in positions to create the institutional changes necessary to translate their recommendations into work plans and programs.
A Credential For All
The college push succeeded in increasing the percentage of high school graduates who earn college degrees from 20% to 35%. However, this success came at a high cost for many of the students not bound for a four year college. These students face growing challenges in making themselves economically sustainable. Good post-secondary options are available to help them prepare for viable careers. Unfortunately they usually have little or no awareness of these options when they leave high school.
According to Symonds, the “college for all” rhetoric needs to be broadened to a “post-secondary credential for all.”
Violating the Law of Labor Supply-and-Demand
Two years ago, Sturtevant examined the specific barriers that exist in Washington State to meeting the workforce needs of the aerospace industry. He found that employers are often forced to import workers from out-of-state because our education system fails to turn out enough qualified job candidates.
He concluded that our state violates the law of labor supply-and-demand. Employers require more graduates than the post-secondary system provides because the K-12 system does not encourage or prepare enough students to enroll in post-secondary workforce education programs.
Symonds and Sturtevant both recommend that K-12 leaders, managers, teachers and counselors help students learn the full range of available post-secondary programs.
The Shop Gap
Symonds and Sturtevant also call on the business community to help fill the “shop gap” that was created when many schools dropped shop and lab classes to emphasize academic learning. Hands-on learning is often the best way to learn STEM-related career skills. The researchers urge businesses to expand work-based learning opportunities by hosting business tours, offering guest speakers for classes, aiding in curriculum development and providing internships.
The apprenticeship system can also be a major resource in making up for the lack of K-12 shop facilities. In the Seattle region, Local 32 of the Plumbers and the Pipefitters provides instructors and training equipment to students in the welding program offered by the Puget Sound Skill Center High School.
The arrangement is a win-win-win. It spares the school the cost of building and equipping a welding shop. Students gain access to outstanding instructors and facilities. Local 32 gets opportunities to attract future apprentices.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
One motivation for Local 32 to work with the school is the age of its workforce. Most plumbers and pipefitters are nearing retirement age and their industry needs to replenish its ranks with younger workers. The same is true in many highly-skilled, high-wage industrial occupations.
For example, in 2009 and 2010 Boeing had a company-wide employee attrition rate of six percent each year. In Washington that meant 4,000 to 5,000 workers left the company annually, many due to retirement. The number of departing workers is expected to grow over the next five years and will remain high over the following decade as the last of the baby boomers retire.
Similar turnover will take place in all industrial sectors dominated by boomers. Those sectors include manufacturing, construction, agricultural services, maritime trades, the freight aspects of land and air transportation, energy generation and energy distribution.
In 2008, more than 580,000 people were employed in these sectors in Washington. If they experience attrition rates comparable to Boeing’s, they will lose nearly 35,000 workers per year.
This churn will create enormous opportunities for young people in Washington to pursue highly rewarding, high-wage careers. But as Sturtevant’s work shows, there are not nearly enough qualified young people in the career pipelines to replace these departing workers.
Relevance of STEM
In spite of their external differences, the sectors referenced above share a need for employees who possess extremely similar skill sets in applied math, hard science and technology, along with soft skills in team work, problem solving and project management. The same skills are at the heart of STEM learning.
The STEM Agenda conference will bring together educators, business and labor representatives to create specific action steps that will make STEM-based, career-related learning opportunities more widely available to students and educators.