In thinking about STEM jobs—which is to say occupations having something to do with science and/or technology and/or engineering and/or math—it’s easy to envision occupations in which graduate work is required. And often that is the case. Frequently underplayed, however, are the many more jobs having something to do with STEM that don’t require such time-consuming degrees.

A report, for instance, by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce argues that the “STEM supply problem” reaches well beyond the need for men and women with advanced degrees, even bachelor’s degrees. Society also needs more well-trained technicians and skilled STEM workers in manufacturing, utilities, transportation, mining, and other technology-driven industries.  This is the case, according to Georgetown, as there is a “scarcity of workers with basic STEM competencies across the entire economy,” touching on virtually every industry.

Think of this last problem as a lack of basic STEM literacy. How might this deep, country-wide problem be alleviated?

A major step in the right direction is the growing number of educational, industrial, and other programs aimed at increasing fundamental STEM competence. Or as Mark Hibbs, an engineer who leads STEMentor in the Twin Cities, recently said: There are “thousands of STEM initiatives” underway nationally. This sense is consistent with what my American Experiment colleagues and I have discovered when it comes to programs aimed, more broadly, at helping young men and women prepare for “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree.”

STEMentor is a project that offers STEM career information to “all students as they journey from middle school through college.” It also audaciously aims to pull together, all in one platform, the “overwhelming amount of STEM-related career information available on the internet,” plus providing the “best available information to students as they consider different career pathways.”

Most vitally, and as its name suggests, Hibbs sees STEMentor as a place where students can “engage in short-term, informal discussions about careers and career advice with STEM professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds,” as well as track down internships and entry-level STEM jobs. All this in addition to helping students from groups underrepresented in STEM professions find and make their way in good and satisfying careers.

Hibbs, who was a physics major at Carleton and holds a master’s from Stanford, recognizes three things that Katherine Kersten, Catrin Thorman, and I also do.

 

  • It’s critical to start talking with students (and their parents) about jobs in the trades and other areas beforethey reach high school, if all possible.
  • The gap between careers in the trades and careers in STEM, when it exists all, can be exceedingly slim.
  • And not nearly enough career counseling takes place in high schools, as counselors, unsurprisingly, are routinely preoccupied with students’ social, emotional, familial and similar problems. This makes initiatives such as STEMentor even more important.

 

 

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