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  • Pam Ray

A Necessary Resolution: Parents Can Bridge the STEM Gaps

Bridging the Gaps

There’s little that’s more intimidating to a parent than a kid’s math or science textbook. We shy away from it like Dracula avoids the sunrise. But if you’re at all interested in your own retirement, looking forward to those post-launch years when your children are happily and independently engaged in meaningful, profitable careers, it’s time for you to build some bridges between your present and their futures.

This year, make a commitment to get involved in your child’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) education.

It's tempting to leave these teaching roles solely to schools but the speed of technology’s infiltration into professional development currently outpaces the ability of education systems to come into alignment with workforce needs. Therefore, there remains a disconnect between schools and career choice, which informed parents can bridge.

I stumbled into that gap myself when my son was sixteen. I’d been busy balancing the technology vs. playground conundrum, but nearly missed the STEM career prerequisite. While schools do not necessarily require all students to focus on a STEM curriculum, nearly all future employers do. I realized quickly that it was up to me to drive that point home to my son.

While they may not feel it, parents play the role of “key influencer” in their children’s life decisions. In a poll for College Board/National Journal, high school students said they most (55%) rely on parents and relatives when seeking advice about decisions post high school. It’s an enormous responsibility because it affects your own finances, your kids’ futures, the health of your local communities and the economy of the nation.

There was a time when STEM skills were required only of those students expected to pursue careers in specific science, technology, engineering or math-related careers. In a way, that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the degree to which these skills are now utilized in careers once thought to be more creative or subjective. Many a journalist has joked that their career was determined largely by an inability to master long division. But pens, paper and publication have now all evolved to include bits of technology. Not only do you need the ability to write a graceful sentence, you’ll also be required to figure out how and where to “publish” it electronically.

The very acronym “STEM” has evolved to “STEAM”, including an “A” for “Arts.” The artist’s role has been transformed, bringing more opportunities, but requiring more technical knowledge. Video production, web design and graphic arts have become critical communication tools for business, education, government and non-profits. Survival in this field depends largely upon the artist’s ability to use hardware (drone cameras, lights, editing software) to storyboard, and produce quality visual and audio products.

No one escapes. Parents should dig deep into how STEM is applied within their children’s passions and interests. Plant seeds early.

Does your sports-obsessed child have designs on a career as a professional athlete? While he or she is spending every weekend on the playing field, you might open their eyes to sports-related careers off the field. Encourage them to spend their classroom hours studying statistics, physical therapy/medicine, nutrition, data management and even biochemical engineering, which will come in handy when improving gear like bats, bicycles, and concussion-preventing helmets.

Your clothing-obsessed teenager now needs more than a sketch pad and a pencil to design the latest fashions. Haute couture demands knowledge of materials, chemistry, computer design, economics and even geology – as minerals are increasingly blended into cosmetics.

College is not for everyone, but STEM skills and proficiencies are critical throughout the workforce. If your child is planning to pursue a career in technical education, the situation remains the same. Hands-on skills are being taught in the 8th and 9th grade, providing a great opportunity to earn community college credits while exploring skill sets. According to Brookings Institute’s report The Hidden STEM Economy, “Half of all STEM jobs are available to workers without a four-year college degree and these jobs pay $53,000 on average – a wage ten percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements.

Career Technical Education (CTE) jobs will pay well because they are in high demand. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce notes, “The deeper problem is a broader scarcity of workers with basic STEM competencies across the entire economy. Demand for the core competencies is far greater than the traditional STEM employment share suggests, and stretches across the entire U.S. job market, touching virtually every industry.”

The enormity of the problem requires some heavy lifting by parents. A future once defined in the senior year of high school now begins in elementary school through STEM. Our first step is to acknowledge that STEM education, skills and competencies are not optional. Then, start where I started and ask your kids a simple question: “Are you taking STEM related classes?” If not, reassess the landscape and begin to fill the gaps. When it comes time for that first job search, you'll be glad you did.

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