Strategies to Stimulate Growth in STEM Jobs to Meet Manufacturing Industry Needs

As manufacturing continues to become more and more advanced, workers trained in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are in high demand. Learn what can be done to ensure manufacturers are equipped with the right workforce not only in the near future, but for years to come.

Siemens Energy Inc. – Gas turbine

manufacturing plant in Charlotte, N.C.


Since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, the American manufacturing industry has rightfully earned a reputation as the world’s leading center of innovation. In fact, today, manufacturing is responsible for some 90 percent of all patents issued in the United States. But as manufacturing continues to become more and more advanced, an industry once dominated by lower-skilled laborers is now desperate for workers trained in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

According to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, around one million more professionals will be needed to fill STEM jobs over the next decade. To meet this demand, the U.S. will need to increase STEM-degreed graduates by some 34 percent—an unlikely feat given the U.S. is graduating fewer and fewer STEM professionals each year.

The question that remains is what can be done to ensure manufacturers are equipped with the right workforce not only in the near future, but for years to come?

Douglas Woods

Douglas Woods is president of AMT—The Association For Manufacturing Technology, an organization that represents and promotes U.S.-based manufacturing technology and those who design, build, sell, and service this technology. He says the perception of typical manufacturing jobs must change in order for our young people to gain interest in pursuing STEM degrees.

“For years, a part of the problem has been that people in the U.S. have had this mindset that if you wanted to have a career and make a lot of money, engineering wasn’t really the route to do that,” Woods began. “So we had an increasing number of people getting financial, marketing services, or liberal arts degrees, as opposed to getting into engineering.”

But Woods believes it’s today’s innovators and engineers who are bringing in the most money, and many young people are missing a real opportunity to follow suit.

“If you take a look at the people who are becoming millionaires, more and more of those are from a technical, engineering, and manufacturing background as much as they are bankers, doctors, and attorneys,” explained Woods.

Changing perception isn’t easy, however, so the question of how to fill STEM jobs lingers. Bruce Katz is vice president of the Brookings Institution and offers counsel to the public and private sectors on such issues. He says there are several actions the federal government should take to strengthen STEM education, thus increasing the pool of qualified candidates for these types of jobs.

These include:

• Increasing investments in community colleges, which are responsible for a large share of workforce training.

• Continuing to invest in workforce training programs, and work with state and local governments to develop a demand-driven workforce system that helps develop skills employers demand.

• Increasing the number of highly skilled foreign workers that may be employed by U.S. firms through the H1-B visa program.

Katz says, although the subject is not without controversy, reforming immigration laws could play a large role in retaining foreign students who come to the U.S. to study at the world’s best colleges and universities.

“I think what our country forgets is that over the next 50 years of increasing global competition, the U.S. would be well served by having this diverse demographic base,” Katz said. “It is really our calling card in the world, both because it enables us to replace an aging workforce, but it also enables us to have trading relationships with literally every country in the world because we have people from every country in the world here. No other country has that.”

 

    June 14, 2012

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

    Get the latest.