Young Americans in STEM: From Recession to Optimism

shutterstock_58262761The Great Recession was tough on everyone, especially Generation Z now entering today's workforce.

So why should the next generation have reason to be optimistic about their futures?

The answer, for some, can be found in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education that empowers students to think critically and solve problems. 

A strong STEM education can transform students’ ability to create, evaluate, and analyze in any 

situation and any context. This means that they develop the skills necessary to answer questions and problem-solve challenges they are confronted with—important skills no matter what career path they choose to pursue.

A Reason for Optimism: Critical Thinking Skills

The STEM classroom is the perfect arena for building higher order thinking skills. These skills are developed through hands-on experimenting and prototyping that require creative thinking and problem solving—an approach that creates an environment where every student can offer something of value by thinking deeply about the question at hand.

When students find real-life connections with STEM subjects studied in school, they recognize their application in daily life and can begin to envision a future full of jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They also gain the critical thinking skills needed to excel in any type of job and begin to see a future developing the next generation of smart phones, apps, and solar-powered automobiles, to name just a few possibilities.

STEM Skills Support Innovation

The benefits of a strong STEM education go beyond the individual student. When a generation of young people is trained in critical thinking and problem-solving skills, the entire society benefits because having a workforce with these skills is essential for a strong, innovation-based economy.

There is growing recognition that the country’s economic future and status in the world depends on having a workforce that can solve today’s problems and innovate for the future. And yet there is a mismatch between STEM companies wanting to innovate and young people looking for jobs. There are many STEM companies that are looking for young people with critical thinking skills and the ability to problem solve, but they can't find people with the skills needed to excel at that kind of work. At the same time, many people are desperately searching for work. Unfortunately, there is a considerable gap in these skills necessary to support innovation.

In response, however, companies like Harley DavidsonExxon Mobile, and the oil and gas exploration company QEP are taking it upon themselves to do something about the lack of prepared STEM workforce. All three support STEM learning funding and helm initiatives designed to create a new generation of students with the critical thinking skills to approach and solve difficult problems—the perfect employees to carry their businesses into the future.

The White House Supports STEM

President Obama has also taken note. The White House’s "Educate to Innovate" initiative works to close the STEM gap in schools by encouraging private sector efforts to help students from underserved areas prepare for STEM careers. In March of this year, the White House announced $240 million in new pledges from private industries to help boost study in STEM fields, a commitment that brings the total support to more than $1 billion over the course of the program’s six-year life.  

Additionally, the president’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget proposes more than $100 million toward STEM Innovation Networks (school districts that partner with colleges and other regional entities), $40 million to STEM Teacher Pathways programs to prepare 100,000 effective STEM instructors, and the creation of National STEM Master Teacher Corps to help the best and brightest educators make the transition from academia to community leadership and STEM education advocate positions.

STEM Skills are Life Skills

A strong STEM education bridges the gap between young people entering the workforce and next-generation businesses searching for trainable innovators. STEM-geared companies need highly skilled employees with the ability to question, innovate, hypothesize and solve difficult problems—all things a quality STEM education brings to the table.

Students need to be trainable--able to create, evaluate, and analyze, the critical thinking skills that will help them succeed in high potential careers and the chance to vie for the highest paying jobs, many of which are in STEM fieldsThis is possible through quality STEM education that starts early and extends through high school.