Click HERE to view STEM Holds the Key to Preparing Students for the Jobs of the Future as a multimedia presentation.
Cutting-edge Industry 4.0 technologies continue to shape current and future jobs across a broad range of industries in ways no one fully understands yet. Unfortunately, workers’ skills aren’t keeping pace with the demands of employers.
Today, the demand for highly-skilled workers with advanced technological skills far exceeds the supply of such workers, creating what is known as the “skills gap” and leaving hundreds of thousands of positions unfilled. Experts expect the skills gap to get even worse over the course of the next decade.
To bridge the skills gap, educational institutions must produce more workers with in-demand skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. However, colleges simply aren’t producing enough STEM graduates.
Not only are not enough students choosing to enter STEM fields, but those that do too often switch majors or drop out altogether. Experts believe that more, better, and earlier STEM education at the primary and secondary levels could reduce the rate of STEM attrition at the post-secondary level, resulting in more STEM graduates and helping to bridge the skills gap.
STEM: Supply & Demand
The importance of STEM to future economic prosperity and innovation cannot be underestimated. In fact, experts predict that, by 2027, the number of STEM jobs will grow by 13%, with computing, engineering, and advanced manufacturing jobs leading the way.
This increasing demand for STEM workers creates a challenge for educational institutions at all levels. To date, despite years of work focusing on STEM, much remains to be done.
To maintain its position as a world leader in science and technology, the United States needs to produce at least one million more STEM professionals over the next decade than it’s currently projected to produce.
Today, despite high demand, American STEM bachelor’s degrees make up only 10% of the global total of such degrees, with China (22%) and India (25%) currently outpacing the U.S.
Why is the U.S. lagging behind competitors when it comes to producing STEM graduates? A look at a few key statistics will offer some insight.
First, not enough students are pursuing STEM fields. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (STEM Attrition report), approximately 28% of bachelor’s degree students and 20% of associate’s degree students choose STEM fields in college.
Those numbers could be high, though, as the STEM Attrition report noted that other studies have concluded that as few as 14% of students choose STEM. Regardless of which statistic is correct, the rates at which U.S. students choose STEM lags behind competing countries.
Not only do not enough students choose STEM to begin with, those that do choose STEM too often end up leaving STEM fields. According to the STEM Attrition report, 48% of bachelor’s degree students and 69% of associate degree students eventually leave STEM fields by switching majors or dropping out of college altogether.
Those numbers should boggle the mind, especially when combined with the fact that too few students choose STEM to begin with. The result is that the U.S. currently has one of the lowest ratios of STEM to non-STEM bachelor’s degrees in the world.
Researchers have been searching for answers to the problem of STEM attrition. While many factors appear to contribute to the problem, such as the fact that STEM degrees often take longer to complete, two interrelated factors appear to be primary contributors to STEM attrition: (1) intensity of and (2) poor performance in STEM coursework in the first year.
Both of these factors point to precollege academic preparation as the place to start when looking for a solution to STEM attrition.
Insufficient STEM Preparation in the United States
According to the National Math & Science Initiative, only 36% of all high school graduates are ready to take a college-level science course. Likewise, the percentage of ACT-tested high school graduates meeting the ACT STEM Benchmark has held steady for the past several years at approximately 20%: that means only about 20% of high school graduates meet the level of readiness needed for a 50% chance of earning a B or higher in typical first-year STEM courses.
This lack of STEM preparedness can be linked directly to STEM attrition. Mathematics is a key foundation for all STEM disciplines, and one key factor identified by the STEM Attrition report as distinguishing those who leave STEM from those who persist is the level of first-year math courses taken.
Among bachelor’s degree students, 49% of STEM students took either no or only precollege level math courses. Only 21% of such students took calculus or advanced math. The numbers were even more surprising for associate degree students: 74% took no or only precollege level math courses and only 3% took calculus or advanced math.
With such a weak foundation, it’s no wonder that STEM attrition is such a problem. And it’s a problem that’s having a profound negative impact on the skills gap. ACT research shows that, “for STEM majors, STEM scores are positively related not only to succeeding in individual math and science courses but also to earning a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher, persisting in their STEM major, and earning a STEM-related bachelor’s degree.”
Room for STEM Education Improvement in the United States
The good news is that educational professionals and governmental entities alike understand the critical importance of improving STEM education. There is plenty of room for more, better, and earlier STEM education at the K-12 level.
Intriguing makerspaces and fun robotics projects have done much to increase interest in STEM concepts. However, much more needs to be done to equip students with foundational STEM knowledge and a better understanding of STEM careers.
To most effectively harness the curiosity of youngsters, STEM concepts need to be introduced at a young age. Educators and parents also need to expose kids to STEM experiences in a wide variety of places and times: in school, out of school, over the summer, and throughout the community.
Demand More from Students in STEM Education
At the same time, educators need to demand more of their students when it comes to STEM subjects. ACT research reveals that taking rigorous science and math classes in high school is critical to college readiness.
For example, the ACT concluded in its 2017 report on STEM education in the U.S. (ACT report) that almost 25% of students taking at least three years of math or science met the STEM benchmark. However, only 2-6% of students taking no more than two years of math or science did so.
That’s a huge difference that highlights the importance of rigorous math and science education. However, it also reveals that math and science courses must improve if only 25% of those taking at least three years of math or science can meet the ACT STEM benchmark.
Based upon these statistics, ACT issued a recommendation that states increase graduation requirements to include both three years of math and three years of science. As of 2017, though, not one state had fully followed this recommendation. In fact, only 11 states met the math recommendation and only one state met the science recommendation.
How to Improve STEM Education? Ideas Abound
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of ideas out there about how to make STEM education better. ACT and other educational and governmental organizations will continue to offer suggestions for improvement.
For example, many experts believe that work-based learning (WBL) and project-based learning experiences that incorporate multiple disciplines make STEM learning more meaningful and inspiring. By focusing on complex, real-world problems and challenges, students are challenged to take initiative and use creativity to develop solutions, leading to memorable STEM learning experiences that stick with students.
Moreover, many educational institutions may already have pieces in place that can help to improve and revitalize STEM education for all students. Schools with high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs can incorporate successful practices from those programs into other STEM classes.
How Amatrol Can Help
How can educational institutions put these ideas into practice? With more than three decades of experience designing and manufacturing state-of-the-art training systems, Amatrol offers a wide variety of learning solutions that can help educators improve their STEM offerings.
Our comprehensive learning solutions include: project-based learning; highly-interactive eLearning curriculum; virtual trainers; and hands-on experience with real-world industrial equipment. In addition to delivering quality STEM educational content, Amatrol’s programs also provide invaluable insight into STEM career paths.
For example, in conjunction with LIFT and funded by the United States Department of Defense, Amatrol recently developed IGNITE: Mastering Manufacturing, a comprehensive career exploration and preparation program for high schools.
A flexible, multi-year program, IGNITE offers high school students an introduction to the many STEM-focused career opportunities available in modern manufacturing facilities, including jobs working with advanced Industry 4.0 technologies. We hope that students will be inspired to find a career that will provide both job satisfaction and great pay.
Along the way, students will gain hands-on skills in a wide variety of technical areas, from electricity and fluid power to robotics and automation. IGNITE students also learn key employability skills like problem-solving and teamwork.
In addition to earning college credit while in high school, many students will also earn valuable industry-standard certifications. Equipped with certifications from organizations such as the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) or the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA), IGNITE students will be prepared to step into a great career with all the skills they need to succeed.
Contact Amatrol to be connected to an expert consultant who can provide more information about IGNITE or any of Amatrol’s many other career and technical training solutions. You can also click below to watch a video about the IGNITE program:
About Duane Bolin
Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.