Comeback Cities: How STEM can boost the economic recovery

STEM-revives-citiesThe economic recovery may be well underway, but for many American families—and many urban centers in our nation—the turnaround has been slow in coming, with a return to real prosperity not yet on the horizon. Lower unemployment rates and economic growth in some places give many people reasons for optimism. But the hard truth is that the American ideology that tells us anyone who works hard can achieve his or her economic potential seems far from reality these days.

Fortunately, there is one area that’s booming—technology, the sciences and engineering. According to President Obama's STEM Education 5-year strategic plan, the National Science and Technology Council's Committee on STEM Education reports that we are now in a vital “time of opportunity” with regard to STEM careers, which are set to dramatically outpace growth in other sectors in the near future. It’s a statement that presents major potential for change: the chance to leverage STEM readiness in young learners to fuel a comeback in our cities left behind by the lagging economy.

“Nothing is a bigger priority for a healthy U.S. economy than STEM education. We have to excite kids about STEM jobs.”  - Edie Fraser, CEO of STEMConnector

STEM careers are the careers of the future.

Twenty percent of all U.S. jobs — 26 million positions — require knowledge in at least one STEM field. But that’s just the current reality. The number of STEM jobs is estimated to grow by 17 percent between 2014 and 2018, while growth in all other fields combined is estimated to be only 9.8 percent during the same period. Seen this way, it’s pure supply and demand. The world will continue to demand increasing numbers of STEM-ready workers. The opportunity for our cities is to readily and continually supply it, with STEM-ready learners prepared to fill those roles.

An interesting trend is happening to meet this opportunity, headed up by large energy companies. Chevron recently spent $20 million in scholarships and K-12 STEM support for schools in the Pennsylvania/Ohio/West Virginia tri-state area. The program’s success is why the company will do it again in new cities in 2015, spending $30 million in STEM-related programs, with another $130 committed to STEM and other educational projects over the next three years.

But why exactly would Chevron—and other companies moving to support STEM education—take the risk?

Critical thinking skills blossom via STEM learning.

Inquiry-based STEM education prepares students to meet the challenges of our new economic world. It does this because it isn’t just about knowledge of science or engineering. Instead, it teaches students to think scientifically—to question, experiment, and use creativity to solve problems. 

As our country shifts from a manufacturing economy to an information one, many of the physical and low-skilled jobs of the past are being replaced with careers in advanced manufacturing, life sciences, biotech, information technology and big data—jobs that require a different skill set from the ones required of our grandparents’ generation. Chevron's investment indicates that it recognizes how inquiry-based STEM education begun in the K-12 grades can help inspire and build students' critical thinking skills before they enter the job market. These skills benefit industry—employees with the ability to apply self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking are better employees—able to creatively solve problems and adapt with every issue tackled.

Stem That Changes Our Country Starts in the Classroom

Foster STEM education in schools, especially with hands-on, immersive experiences designed to spark interest, boost critical thinking skills, and create motivated STEM learners for life, and you pack the STEM pipeline full of an imminently renewable resource for economic growth.