How you can play a local role in correcting a global STEM worker shortage
Those of us inside the cozy Indiana tech ecosystem bubble fully understand the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills. We probably expect our children to follow our example and secure the STEM skills they’ll need to succeed in the Digital Age.
Outside our bubble, though, too few Hoosiers—and Americans—have the skills needed now to fill the millions of the currently available STEM jobs, let alone those to come. Globally, employers are facing the worst talent shortage in the 10 years since the Great Recession. The U.S., alone, will need to fill 3.5 million jobs by 2025, with positions in computing, engineering, and advanced manufacturing leading the way. And experts fear 2 million of them will go unfilled for lack of home-grown talent.
It’s a huge challenge that economic and education experts, including our own TechPoint talent team and many of our member companies like Salesforce, Eleven Fifty Academy and others, are tackling from different angles.
You can play an important role, too.
The TechPoint Foundation for Youth’s STEM Partners program is looking for volunteers for its program that enables year-round involvement with Hoosier teachers and youth.
“It’s amazing what impact one visit a month to a classroom can have on kids,” says Al White, VP at the Lilly Foundation, which supports the program. “Your involvement can be as involved as you want it to be, but we have the data to prove even once a month can make a huge difference.”
Research is clear that, for girls especially, high interest in math and science in younger grades diminishes as children age. Asked why they elected not to pursue STEM careers, despite early interest in STEM subjects, students cited two reasons:
- They don’t know anyone who works in a STEM field and
- They don’t understand what people in STEM fields do.
STEM Partners addresses that lack of information by providing examples of living, breathing, successful STEM career professionals who look like the students they’re mentoring and who will talk about how those children can follow in their footsteps.
“Teachers are focused on classroom instruction. They can’t know all of the nuances of what coders, programmers, researchers or product developers do,” said Andy Fulton, who oversees the STEM Partner program. “Our STEM Partners are mentors as well as living examples of what these kids’ futures can be.”
Steve Gillman has been a STEM Partner for several years and has seen its benefits firsthand.
“Each year, there are several kids who are frequently ‘problem students’ in the classroom and through my role as a STEM Partner, I have seen them get excited about math and science and enjoy class and the bad behavior slips away,” he said.
STEM Partners focuses on Hoosier children from underrepresented populations who don’t have a connection with a STEM professional. Over the course of the year, students have a chance to learn about the day-to-day life of their STEM Partner, how they got the position, and other tidbits the Partner shares.
“Strong relationships are built between the Partners and the students,” Andy said. “They make it clear that STEM careers are achievable.”
Alex Ryker is a STEM Partner because he knows firsthand the importance of the program and others like it. This is his first year working with a class at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville.
“I joined the STEM partner program because of the way that STEM outreach programs like this one benefited me when I was a student,” he said. “Meeting and learning from professional engineers in high school helped to put me on a path to my own career in engineering, and as a result I now work as a systems engineer at a company that I love. I’m excited for any chance I can find to give back to the community that gave so much to me.”
The program launched in 2011 under the name “Lilly Science Coaches.” As originally conceived, it focused on science, but it has evolved to incorporate all of the potential STEM careers.
More than 1800 central Indiana students have benefited from a STEM Partner so far. The Foundation hopes to expand that number, but also grow beyond Central Indiana. Currently, the Foundation has 75 mentors on board.
Steve recommends the program to volunteers. “I retired in 2013 and have helped in classrooms in IPS and Washington Township since then. The students get excited to have a scientist in the classroom helping them with hands-on, inquiry based science and math, and at the end of the school year, many of the kids tell me how they now like science where they didn’t in the past.”