There is indeed a STEM crisis—just not the one everyone’s been talking about. The real STEM crisis is one of literacy: the fact that today’s students are not receiving a solid grounding in science, math, and engineering.
Even though the US is the world’s leading economy, it’s under pressure to produce the best minds to solve the greatest challenges facing mankind. The problem is, the US is lagging behind in some of the most important areas of education to help solve the problems of today and tomorrow. The crisis in STEM fields—which cover science, technology, engineering and mathematics—are threatening the growing workforce and in turn, the country’s position in the global economy. It looks like the Stem crisis will be a threat to the Future of Work.
STEM is a relatively new term, coined less than two decades ago—although the grouping of subjects was sometimes referred to as SMET in previous years.
While 86% of Americans believe that increasing the number of workers in STEM areas is vital for maintaining their position in the global economy, a 2005 report sounded the alarm that U.S. students were lagging behind academically. As a solution, STEM education and subsequent research programs were injected with more funding. New legislation also helped prioritize these subjects in the curriculum for kindergarten through high school. This definitely shows a sign of the rise of STEM.
Even though there are a lot of discussions going on regarding the STEM crisis some researchers suggest the STEM crisis is just a myth. Anthony Carnevale of The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, in Washington, D.C., studios gave a small example to explain why in the US there is a shortage of American workers in the STEM field. He said “STEM makes up only about 7 percent of the jobs in the American economy. On the other hand, we know that anybody who majors in STEM often doesn’t stay in STEM. For instance, by the time most STEM majors are 35 years old, they’re in management. They leave. They no longer work on the bench, in the lab. So we need to produce a lot more STEM workers than we actually use, initially, because we lose so many of them along the way because their careers are relatively successful.”
With the above mentioned statement given by Anthony Carnevale and according to the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the U.S. is not producing enough STEM undergraduate degrees to match the forecasted demand for STEM professionals. Lack of content competency and low interest in STEM are drivers of this workforce gap.
Who are the Global STEM Leaders?
According to the World Economic Forum, China is a major player in STEM education, boasting 4.7 million graduates as of 2016.
The country’s swift uptake of STEM initiatives is driven by new government policy, school participation, and parents’ increasing awareness of the benefits that will future proof the careers of their children.
A Short and Long Term Solution to Fill the Skill Gap
If the U.S. is to become a global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment, the Department of Education suggests that a STEM reform is needed, with the increase of diversity and inclusion being a top priority.
A significant opportunity for growth lies in making STEM more accessible for women—but while there has been a steady rise in women pursuing STEM careers, there are still systemic barriers in place that prohibit women from entering.
Experts also suggest that the introduction of STEM at an earlier age and educating students on the diversity of STEM careers are crucial elements in preparing a more capable workforce.
Given the recent demand for reform, it is clear that STEM education is key to thriving in the new technology-based economy and cultivating solutions to real world problems.