Recently, in an effort to better understand our national economy I read Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. I wanted to understand why we have such high unemployment, yet leave so many jobs go unfilled in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
To gain a better grasp on the STEM crisis (and it is a HUGE crisis by the way), this brief Executive Summary will bring you up to speed.
Currently, only four percent of our nation’s workforce is composed of scientists and engineers - and this number has been rapidly declining in recent years. Why is this important? Well, because this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96 percent.
Leverage is at play in our economy. Everyone benefits when we have more science nerds, gear heads, tech geeks, and mathletes. When there's progress in the lab the multiplier goes into affect, starting with the scientist and engineer inventors, then streams down to benefit the entrepreneurs who rally investors and manage the risk, their skilled workers who build the products, the marketer who connects it with consumers and creates demand, the truck driver who delivers, the salesperson who sells, and the maintenance person who repairs, and of course the consumer who realizes the benefits.
Additionally, for every job that is directly created in this said chain of manufacturing and marketing activity, on average another 2.5 jobs in disparate labor such as: operating restaurants, grocery stores, barber shops, filling stations and banks is generated.
Progress enabling products like: smartphone apps, MRI machines, robot exoskeletons, genetically modified silk, invisibility cloaks, spray on skin, 3-D printers, self-driving cars, artificial bone, sustainable disposable solar panels, eye implants, and flexible glass are built on the work of a few scientists. In several years (or less) these breakthroughs will create millions of jobs. Right now we have the jobs we do because of products that were still in research just a few decades go: the Internet, CT scanners, iPods, and GPS.
When our children are young they are sponges. They enjoy learning letters and numbers. Eventually they discover they enjoy STEM subjects because they can be fun to learn and it's personally satisfying to solve a math problem, build a robot, or reach a conclusion for the school science fair project.
Then something happens at the end of high school and in college. STEM is not as fun and it gets hard. They hit the dip - the learning curve. Learning gets harder and they opt to drop out or focus on something easier because they're afraid, discouraged, and/or can't see the bigger picture of how they can be a part of something huge. We can't let this happen.
If your son and/or daughter is interested even slightly in STEM, then motivate and guide them to pursue their interests to their full potential.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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