National Academies Press: OpenBook

Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary (2016)

Chapter: 4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields

« Previous: 3 The Student and Recent Graduate Voice
Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×

4

Key Challenges Facing
U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields

In the workshop’s second panel, moderated by Greg Camilli, professor of educational psychology at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Engineering, four panelists gave brief statements about how they viewed the challenges facing U.S. employers in high-demand fields and then fielded questions from the workshop participants. The panelists were Ted Childs Jr., founder of Ted Childs, LLC; Melvin Greer, chief senior fellow and chief strategist at Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions; Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute; and Olivia Khalili, director of the Yahoo for Good Program at Yahoo, Inc.

As an introduction to this session, Camilli recounted some of the discussion that arose among the panelists when they prepared for the workshop, beginning with defining a “high-demand” field. “We are far from a policy consensus on what constitutes high demand, and we have not as a nation effectively addressed how to reorient the funding agencies to address a global knowledge-based economy or the flow of expert science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor across national boundaries,” said Camilli. The discussion among the panelists noted the difference in preparing a student for a world in which computational approaches underlie much of the practice of modern engineering and science and of turning out graduates with a computer science degree, but with a limited view on how to apply that degree to other STEM disciplines.

This preworkshop discussion, said Camilli, also suggested it may be useful to contextualize STEM education with regard to specific industries so that educational investment can be targeted to develop critical thinking and analytic skills that could be used broadly within a specific

Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×

industry or across specific fields determined to be high demand fields. The panelists all agreed, he added, that students need to be exposed to both theory and real-world problem solving. One concern, though, is how to better connect employers and educators to increase the opportunities for project-based learning through the combination of revamped curricula and internships, cooperative education, and apprenticeships. “What incentives are there to align education and market needs?” asked Camilli. “How should employers and educators be engaged to ensure that education and training systems are preparing students with the skills that are in demand among employers?”

In his remarks, Childs noted that China, India, Russia, and Japan are all producing more engineers than the United States is, and if this country does not figure out how to get more women and people of color to pursue STEM training and STEM-enabled jobs, the United States will not be competitive in the global economy because it will not meet future demand for STEM-capable employees. Demographic projections, he said, show why women and people of color represent such an important talent pool: by 2043, the U.S. population will be nearly 400 million people, half of whom will be people of color and slightly more than half of whom will be women (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). To reach these untapped groups, he suggested working with organizations such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Society of Women Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and National Society of Black Engineers, all of which have connections with networks of colleges. He added that there are 15 historically black colleges with accredited schools of engineering, which represent 4 percent of America’s engineering colleges, but deliver 30 percent of America’s black and Hispanic engineering graduates.

Greer, who introduced himself as the first and only African American senior fellow in Lockheed Martin’s history, explained that his company partners with more than 250 universities across the country and has relationships with some 500 K-12 schools, which gives the company a good sense of what is happening in U.S. STEM education and how that translates into producing the people the company wants to hire. He said in his position he has observed a few dynamics that are changing the type of employee the company hires. For example, a key characteristic of Lockheed Martin’s workers has changed in recent years so that they are now knowledge-enabled workers who have different problem-solving skills compared with when a worker had a designated job building a specific product, such as a plane, ship, or spacecraft. He also said global competition is having a significant impact on the company and its employees. “If anyone in the world does your job cheaper than you do, they are competing with you,” said Greer, which means knowledge and problem-solving skills become important differentiators.

Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×

In response to these developments, industry’s approach to STEM training is no longer philanthropic, but “is purely a business decision,” said Greer. “When I go to work, my bosses are asking for business metrics such as return on investment—how many people are you going to hire with a particular investment—and if you are an educator who wants us to invest in your programs, you need to talk in those terms,” said Greer. In fact, one metric in his annual performance plan measures his ability to support workforce and talent acquisition through his contacts at universities. Industry today, he said, looks for people with certain skill sets as opposed to specific degrees, but finding workforce-ready students is challenging. He cited one study, for example, showing that, while 96 percent of educators believe they are delivering workforce-ready students, only 11 percent of U.S. employers believe this to be the case (Busteed, 2014). At Lockheed Martin, STEM workers are expected to have some business and social acumen in addition to STEM knowledge. “You need to understand what customers are looking for and how they are going to pay for it,” said Greer. He also said that while critical thinking and problem-solving skills are important, so too is the ability to apply those skills and knowledge to a number of different fields. “If you are working in biometrics or genomics and cannot apply that knowledge to energy or health care, we probably do not have a job for you,” he said.

Greer predicted that, going forward, industry will increase its investments in new delivery models in education. It will also reach out to students as early as middle school, which is when students start to identify as being interested in STEM. Lockheed Martin, he added, has identified the top 20 jobs for the next 5 years that do not exist today and is going to take that knowledge and look at how it will impact curricula and how those curricula are delivered to students.

McNelly noted that in one survey of manufacturing executives in the National Association of Manufacturers 80 percent of respondents noted that they could not find workers who have the critical thinking and technical skills modern manufacturers need to succeed in today’s global economy (Giffi et al., 2015). One reason for this shortage is the failure to provide students with career coaching that paints an accurate picture of the many occupational opportunities for STEM-trained graduates. “What is great about this nation is that you get to decide what you want to be and then create the path to get there, yet the majority of career guidance exposes students to very few of the available careers,” said McNelly. She noted that programs such as Fab School Labs, which reaches out to girls in middle school and establishes a virtual mentoring environment, offer one approach to inspiring students. Another reason for the shortage of skilled workers, she said, is the lack of incentives for creating more real-world experiences for students interested in STEM or for those who are in the workforce to

Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×

gain additional STEM training without having to return to academia. What is needed are ways of applying learning where knowledge is happening and instilling in students that learning is a lifetime activity requiring flexibility and adaptability for lifelong career success. Today, however, academia is incentivized to teach to a point in time ending at graduation.

Khalili also stressed the importance of mentoring and career counseling as a means of introducing students to the breadth of opportunity in STEM. Companies can play an important role here through programmatic community outreach programs. The business sector also needs to get involved in efforts to plug what is known as the leaky pipeline, referring to the large number of students who lose interest in or drop out of STEM programs.

DISCUSSION

To open the discussion, McNelly pointed out that the large majority of U.S. manufacturers are small- to medium-sized companies that not only make valuable products but also serve as a training ground for the Lockheed Martins and IBMs of the world. “The odds are high that most of the experience the big companies are hiring comes from one of our small- and medium-sized manufacturers,” said McNelly. Yet when she talks to leaders at community and technical colleges, their focus is on the few big employers that will recruit large numbers of graduates rather than on the many smaller companies that may hire one or two new workers at a time. She believes community and technical colleges need to build better relationships with small- and medium-sized companies not only because in sum they represent a large employment pool but also because local smaller manufacturers can often provide opportunities for work-based learning.

Commenting on the deficit in career counseling mentioned by both McNelly and Khalili, Rebecca Vieyra, from the American Association of Physics Teachers, said teachers could play a bigger role in addressing this problem, but teacher preparation does not include industrial experience, nor does it include the type of training in business matters that Greer noted. Greer responded that companies such as Lockheed Martin are now reaching out to K-12 educators, as well as those at colleges and universities, and creating opportunities to spend summers in industrial settings. Lockheed Martin’s externship program, for example, enables teachers to spend a month in the company’s laboratories to learn about the kind of metrics, processes, and tools it uses. This program has been a big success for the company in both influencing curricula and increasing the pool of well-trained workers from which it hires. Childs said such externship programs need to include more faculty from campuses that serve minority students so that they can better understand what their students will experience when they get into the workplace.

Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×

The National Association of Manufacturers, said McNelly, sponsors Manufacturing Day in early October. Manufacturers around the country open their doors and invite teachers, students, parents, and policy makers to learn about employment and career opportunities. She also said the National Association of Manufacturers is counseling employers on how to better use tuition reimbursement plans so that employees can be more purposeful in using these programs, which nearly all manufacturers now offer, to build career-enhancing skills.

Lida Beninson, an American Association for the Advancement of Science Science and Technology Policy fellow working at the National Science Foundation, said she was concerned there were not enough opportunities to reach every student who would benefit from such programs. “When I hear about summer camps and externships, I worry about all of the people who will not have access to these programs,” said Beninson. McNelly suggested that while access to summer camp and externship programs is something that needs to be addressed, the real issue is why the nation has largely relegated project-based learning to summer camps and externships when research shows that mainstream STEM education should be delivered using project-based learning. Changing the way STEM education takes place is an area in which corporate America should exercise its influence, she said. Childs agreed, noting that companies are getting involved in education reform and training because they realize the talent they need tomorrow will not be there if the status quo holds. He also called upon the STEM education community to work with business to do everything possible to be the stimulant for all children to want to know more about STEM subjects. “We need to get these children motivated to want to be part of the STEM world,” said Childs, who again pointed out that this is both an economic and a national security issue.

Dale Allen, from Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts, reiterated the need to extend industry outreach efforts beyond the 4-year colleges that have been the focus of most programs, given that half of the nation’s postsecondary school students, and an even bigger percentage of underrepresented populations, are enrolled at community colleges. He also called for the nation to increase its support of training programs at community and technical colleges so these institutions can produce the STEM-competent students that employers can then train to meet their specific needs. Greer agreed there need to be more outreach programs, but he also noted that academics across all of higher education need to do a better job of showing industry that what they are doing aligns with industry’s needs. “It is unrealistic to expect someone in industry to be clairvoyant enough to figure out how to take what you are teaching your students and turn it into a workforce and talent plan,” said Greer. Along those lines, Childs recounted how Freeman Hrabowski, from the University

Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×

of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), suggested to the president of Boston Scientific Corporation that he invite the deans of the black engineering schools to spend the day at the company. The result was that 15 students from those departments were offered internships at the company and all 15 were invited back for the following summer. Hrabowski said his efforts to inform the National Security Agency (NSA) about how its programs were relevant to NSA’s mission were a factor in the agency hiring many UMBC graduates.

Crystal Bailey, from the American Physical Society (APS), said she has found that a surprising number of academic physics departments are interested in including the types of educational elements that she has heard panelists say are important. APS has a program, Innovation in Entrepreneurship Education, that includes creating makerspaces,1 increasing the amount of experiential learning, and relating learning to business concepts, and she encouraged any company with ideas on how to improve this program to contact her. Greer recounted how the mission to send a spacecraft to Pluto had such a large ripple effect through the physics, geoscience, and space exploration departments of every one of its academic partners. “They started to see a real application to the subjects they are teaching,” he said, adding that the ripple effect included identifying a host of new projects relevant to the company’s businesses. Greer also noted that he has seen the same thing with additive manufacturing and three-dimensional printing. “That is a technology that we can start incorporating into our curriculum to excite students,” said Greer.

Camilli suggested the academic teams excited about Pluto might also start thinking about generalizing that interest to include searching for aquifers on Earth to benefit those who live in areas short of freshwater supplies. Greer then provided an anecdote about a 10th-grade student who was doing a research project on calderas and asked Lockheed Martin if she could access the data on calderas that the company had from its Mars programs. This young woman, who was quadriplegic, understood how to take an abstract idea, tie it to a specific industry target, and develop a fruitful research program. Not only did this result in a publication for this young woman, but it also netted her a job at Lockheed Martin when she completed her engineering degree.

Khalili commented that social media could play a role in increasing interest in STEM and awareness of STEM-related occupations. She noted, for example, there was a significant rise in the number of males enrolled in computer science classes the year after the release of the movie The Social Network, which depicted the phenomenal rise of Mark Zuckerberg, the

__________________

1 A makerspace is a physical location where individuals can gather to share resources, tools, and knowledge to create, invent, and learn.

Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×

founder of Facebook. “How do we use the media to reverse the trend of women and minorities losing interest in STEM fields and to counteract the stereotypic message that they do not have the ability to compete in these fields?” she asked. Greer wondered if some of the new technologies, such as Siri (Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface) and others, can be used to provide at least a cursory level of virtual assistance and mentoring to reach underrepresented groups of students. He said that while nothing can replace human interactions when it comes to mentoring and career coaching, the need to reach a broader audience will require new delivery methods of career information.

Khalili then commented on the recent announcement from the mayor of New York that all of the city’s public schools will be required to teach computer science and the similar measures that Chicago and San Francisco are taking. “That is fabulous, but who is going to be teaching all of these computer science classes and how do we incentivize people to go into low-paying teaching jobs when they can go to Lockheed Martin, IBM, and Yahoo and make more money?” she asked. One possibility, she suggested, would be for companies to develop programs for their employees to work with local schools and for organizations such as Teach for America to increase the focus on STEM. Yahoo, for example, has an internship program that takes new college graduates, places them in programs to train teachers about computer science, and then brings them into the company workforce. Debt forgiveness could also serve as a powerful incentive to draw STEM-trained students into the education workforce.

Roy Swift, from Workcred, said he firmly believes the conversation should be more about learning than education. He noted that research shows that there is a return on investment from corporate efforts to facilitate continual learning among employees (Mallon et al., 2012; Brown and Duguid, 1991; Eurich, 1985), something companies are starting to embrace. On the other hand, he said, the education community has been reductionistic about how learning occurs, and these two factors combine to contribute to the problem. “How do we open industry more to talk about learning and continued competency of its own employees?” asked Swift. Sarah Simmons, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, turned this problem around and said educational institutions need to think about what skills their degrees confer and not just about education as a form of credentialing. “Can we talk about how to balance the need for institutions to be more responsive to industry’s needs and still provide students with an education that enables them to be lifelong learners?” asked Simmons.

Greer responded that degrees are just outcomes, and today Lockheed Martin looks more for a specific type of individual, one who shows academic curiosity, critical thinking skills, business acumen, and an entrepreneurial mindset. McNelly added that the manufacturers she works with

Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×

need employees with a set of core competencies, so she has worked with programs to embed certifications of competency in the overall academic pathway. “The challenge is to take needed technical knowledge, map it into an academic pathway, and then surround it with all the other skills we’ve talked about today so that employers do not have to take students to square one when they hire them,” said McNelly.

Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×
Page 39
Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×
Page 40
Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×
Page 41
Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×
Page 42
Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×
Page 43
Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×
Page 44
Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×
Page 45
Suggested Citation:"4 Key Challenges Facing U.S. Employers in High-Demand Fields." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21900.
×
Page 46
Next: 5 Maintaining Student Interest in STEM »
Developing a National STEM Workforce Strategy: A Workshop Summary Get This Book
×
Buy Paperback | $54.00 Buy Ebook | $43.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

The future competitiveness of the United States in an increasingly interconnected global economy depends on the nation fostering a workforce with strong capabilities and skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). STEM knowledge and skills enable both individual opportunity and national competitiveness, and the nation needs to develop ways of ensuring access to high-quality education and training experiences for all students at all levels and for all workers at all career stages.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) holds a primary responsibility for overseeing the federal government’s efforts to foster the creation of a STEM-capable workforce. As part of its efforts in this endeavor, NSF’s Directorate on Education and Human Resources asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to convene a workshop that would contribute to NSF’s preparation of a theoretical and evidence-based STEM Workforce Development R&D Core Framework. Participants discussed research themes, identified gaps and emerging research opportunities, and recommended refinements in the goals of the framework. This report summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!