STEM and the jobs of the "New Collar" economy.

Brian Van Aken 10 April 2018

Attending the US News and World Report’s Workforce of Tomorrow annual conference has introduced a new sense of the importance of STEM education to me and the thousands of attendees at this year’s event. The conference was aptly labeled the “Workforce of Tomorrow” conference and brought educators, interest groups and major companies together to discuss the STEM global talent shortage.

On April 5, right in the middle of the conference, I had the privilege of hosting a roundtable to discuss what STEM decision makers think about the future of their industries. Surrounded by two tables of highly acclaimed attendees, the issue at the forefront of their minds became obvious: they think that there’s a major disconnect within our current education system. Amid conversations about the factors contributing to this issue, I noticed a few trends that seemed to arise.

There are still stigmas associated with certifications and non-traditional workplace learning.

It seems ironic that in an environment where demand dramatically outweighs supply that employers would take such an archaic view of certifications. Unfortunately, the attendees that I encountered almost universally believed that this view seemed to be a PR issue often originating within a student’s family. One glance at GoodJobsData.org, or even Modis' tech and engineering Salary Guide, completely invalidates this perception. There are tons of high-paying STEM jobs that don’t require a traditional university education!

Partly, this perception may be because there is mass confusion surrounding the value of certifications. Enter Credential Engine, a nonprofit focused on providing clarity surrounding the world of credentials with a big conference presence. The site relays the most valid credentials to pursue depending on interest and career goals, an essential function in proving the value of a non-traditional education.

Starting the work-based learning conversation in high school is too late.

Everyone at our roundtable seemed to agree: garnering the interest of children in STEM is essential. Many of the conference educators at lamented a lack of STEM education opportunities and relayed that when work-based exposure is possible, it usually only occurs beginning late in high school.

With job growth trending toward the 12% mark in 2024 and 20%+ gains predicted in specialties like Web Development, Biomedical Engineering and Analyst positions, there’s no time to wait! A few innovative ideas at the center of discussion included specialty summer and after-school programs, certification programming similar to traditional AP college credit, informational outreach targeting parents, and teacher externships.

Continuous learning is our future.

One of the consistent themes on the mind of many of the presenters was the importance of post-secondary education. In an age where automation is constantly evolving, our workforce must, too! Robots will definitely impact our current employment ecosystem. By some accounts, nearly 50% of all current jobs will be eliminated in the near future. So how does an employee or student robot-proof their expertise?

Joseph Anoun, President of Northeastern University explained that you do this by learning tech, spending time understanding data and by taking the time to invest in human-based literacy. Human-literacy actually become key, because it encompasses the soft skills like being entrepreneurial and collaborative that machines will never be able to bridge.

Additionally, a change in our historic educational mindset is essential. Traditionally people have been students for the first twenty or so years of their lives and then workers for their next 40 years. This can no longer be the case since our lives are so regularly affected by changes in technology. For workers to keep up, their education must be fluid and ever-evolving.

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