First things first: Go thank a veteran. Don’t wait for a holiday to come around before you shake their hand. Do it on a daily basis. Whether you meet a you meet a retiree in the grocery store or a millennial on the disc golf course, thank them. Though, if you ask me, the best way to thank a veteran is by giving him or her a STEM job.
If you’re a company, especially if you’re tied to the manufacturing, transportation, and logistics field, and you aren’t looking at veterans, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Everywhere you turn, you read stories on the ever-increasing skills gap that’s occurring in the industry. With the rapidly retiring baby boomer generation, we are seeing more and more STEM jobs going unfilled.
Thankfully, companies like PwC are making a change in their recruiting process. They are stepping up their recruiting of new college grads, not just people with STEM degrees, and have focused on veterans who plan on leaving the military for private-sector STEM jobs. But what really sets them apart is that they are taking the time to train them. They see the huge benefit of hiring someone for their determination and character (traits that our military vets are famous for) and filling their own skill gaps by providing the training they need.
That being said, we can not just stop with the skill gap burden on employers and you can not blame trade deals for losing jobs to other countries. The focus needs to be on education. For some reason manufacturing, as well as the issue of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure (that is a story for another day), has been deemed “not sexy.” Can I just, for the record, say that is the most ridiculous statement that I have ever heard?
The manufacturing industry is the embodiment of what our nation was founded on. We are a nation of go-getters. We see an issue and innovate until we have a solution. We are makers. This is what manufacturing is. But, for some reason, we have this idea that the manufacturing industry is made up of a bunch of Duck Dynasty rejects that sit on an assembly line bored out of their minds. This is what needs to change. We need a major rebranding strategy to shine a light on the heart of manufacturing. This needs to be a focus on a wide scale all the way down to middle school. Supporting Manufacturing Day and other STEM career awareness programs and increasing intern programs that highlight manufacturing and help build interest in STEM jobs is a great starting point.
The bigger, more obvious issue, is that we need to realize that we know more than we think we do. The problem is we don’t really know how to communicate it to our potential employers. This is true for a majority of Americans but especially true for our veterans. A large majority of these men and women spend at least four years completely immersed in a fully realized, well oiled, logistics machine. The glaring issue is that we focus too much on the specifics of the day to day tasks that occur on the job that we don’t see what was happening from a 10,000-foot view.
I experienced this personally until I sought out a mentor that shook up my view on my own career and she completely change my life. A word of advice to looking for a STEM job, especially veterans, is to seek out a mentor who can be that unbiased third party and put you on the track that gets you in the field you want to be in.
In the meantime, veterans now have the chance to put real credentials on their resume. In 2011, the military launched the We Cant Wait initiative that focuses on assisting active duty, reserve and guard members ear industry credentials in their field to help ease the transition when they enter the private sector. In the material handling industry, for example, service members have the opportunity to earn the Certified Logistics Associate (CLA) and Certified Logistics Technician (CLT) credentials which are offered by the nationwide Manufacturing Skill Standards Council. Those credentials help military personnel understand how their skills translate to civilian careers.
This isn’t something that will be fixed overnight, but if we, as Americans, can come together to focus on the real issues at hand (like a lack of education and an incorrect view of the manufacturing industry) instead of listening to pandering politicians that focus on poor trade deals, we can make a significant dent in this skill gap that is plaguing our country.
Even with the economic recovery, recent graduates have it rough. Unemployment among young people remains high and wages remain depressed. Frequently, graduates accept low-wage positions that do not utilize their degrees.
However, one group of recent graduates —those looking for STEM jobs—has it easier than their peers. For these graduates with degrees in fields such as computer science and engineering, high-paying jobs are plentiful. Eighty-one percent of STEM grads hold jobs closely related to their degrees, compared to 72.5 percent among all graduates. Median starting salaries for computer science and engineering are estimated at around $67,300 and $64,400 respectively, 80 percent higher than starting salaries for humanities and liberal arts majors. Moreover, most sectors of today’s economy rely on STEM skills, so graduates have a plethora of career paths to choose from. In addition, compensation is high because companies face an acute shortage of qualified STEM workers.
Economics 101 tells us that the laws of supply and demand should fix this problem as high wages motivate more students to pursue computer and engineering degrees. Instead, exactly the opposite has occurred. We currently have fewer computer science graduates than we did 10 years ago, and 48.3 percent of students who start a STEM degree never finish it. Meanwhile, wages in IT and engineering keep growing.
So why don’t more students pursue STEM jobs and complete highly lucrative STEM degrees? Are wages not high enough? Are only a select number of students capable of obtaining a STEM degree? Are students simply not interested in STEM jobs?
No, no, and no. Computer science and engineering fields already have the highest return on investment of any major. Moreover, wages have been steadily increasing, suggesting that the shortage is getting worse. Students who drop out of STEM fields are found to be no less intelligent than those remaining. And STEM jobs draw plenty of interest, as evident from the numbers of students who declare STEM majors.
In reality, the leaky pipeline in STEM education is caused by a lack of teachers, available courses, and information about STEM fields.
First, many students don’t know a STEM field is even a possibility for them. Rigorous computer science or engineering courses with qualified teachers aren’t offered at most high schools. Many students arrive at college without ever being properly introduced to STEM subjects and assume that engineering or computer fields are reserved for math prodigies or kids who have been coding since they were eight years old.
Second, colleges have trouble adjusting with changing volumes of majors. Rather than expanding their offerings in STEM, schools introduce curricular gate measures like weed-out classes that eliminate able and interested students and instead push them into majors like psychology and anthropology. This prevents schools from having to reshuffle faculty. Universities have little incentive to change their offerings to match the interests of their students, locking in pre-determined distributions of majors throughout.
Even when colleges elect to offer more courses or more seats in a lecture, faculty hiring often has lagged behind. Students receive less and less individual attention as the student-to-faculty ratio widens, discouraging students and magnifying the advantage of students who were lucky enough to be exposed to computer science or engineering before college.
Now, more than ever, these frictions and barriers for aspiring STEM jobs workers, especially in technology fields, are apparent and damaging. Interest in computer science, for example, is currently on a cyclical upswing. If universities fail to expand their offerings in the field, the current momentum behind computer science will be squandered.
We need to fix avenues by which we educate STEM workers and stop assuming that wages will match supply and demand in a timely manner for STEM jobs. We need to reform our education system to mitigate America’s STEM worker shortage.
About 3 million jobs are unfilled because Americans lack the basic technical skills to fill them. With many positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics being filled by people born outside the country, the United States is stepping up its efforts and making STEM education a top priority. The below is a fantastic inforgraphic from topeducationdegrees.org.
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