In a recent Georgetown University study regarding the future of labor in the United States, STEM education was shown to provide the kinds of measurable skills that are necessary to achieve success in the future of the workplace.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. With lab-style learning, students taking STEM courses develop desirable workplace “soft skills” including: complex problem solving, communication and teamwork. These are three of five key competencies in growing demand, according to 50 years worth of data Georgetown researchers gathered from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Occupational Information Network.
According to a December 1 article announcing the study in Diverse: Issues In Higher Education, Dr. Megan L. Fasules, assistant research professor and economist at Georgetown, said the The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report measured industry demand for competencies, such as knowledge, skills and abilities. Fasules told Diverse that the study also looked at which competencies are valued monetarily versus which have labor-market value.
“The earnings associated with any given occupation, and whether a worker earns more or less than the median for that occupation, depend to some degree on the combination of competencies that a worker uses and the value of those competencies within the labor market,” according to the study.
“Workplace Basics: The Competencies Employers Want.”
The Georgetown study, which is titled, “Workplace Basics: The Competencies Employers Want,” states that workers seeking to succeed and earn top salaries need a “balanced mix” of competencies or skills.
The question becomes which kinds of skills and what types of knowledge can educators target to position students for a well-compensated sustainable career. Specialized skills have value, but employability doesn’t absolutely correlate with economic success.
According to the DOL, STEM jobs are projected to grow at a rate approximately 5% higher than all others over the next twenty years, but will still employ fewer people than other sectors. However, these jobs aren’t just in hard science and engineering. Occupations include managerial, teaching and sales positions that require college graduates with scientific or technical knowledge.
Reports that the workforce continues to shift away from skilled physical labor to professional and technical skills has been a topic of discussion for decades. But the newly-released report validates what educators, and advocates of STEM learning, like Robert F. Smith, have been saying for years, studying STEM benefits students even if they do not become engineers or scientists.
Advice for Young Students from Former Google CEO
At the recent Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF) Annual Gala, Smith introduced 2020 honoree Eric Schmidt, Former Chairman and CEO of Google and Co-Founder of Schmidt Futures, as someone like himself, who understands the power of technology to transform communities.
While speaking on the topics of innovation and education, Schmidt offered advice for HEAF’s K-12 scholars looking ahead to college and careers in decades to come.
“If you can get to calculus and if you can master it a little bit, you are going to be in a position where you can really get some extraordinary paying jobs and play a great role,” Schmidt said. He recognized the difficulty of the challenge, but he advised that all students, no matter their focus, should at the very least understand analytics, so they might play a part in the future of the workforce.
This also corresponds to the Georgetown study’s findings that a core competency like communications, when combined with a skill like technical knowledge, become highly valued in future job markets.
Smith, Diversity, STEM and the Future of the Workforce
Both Smith and Schmidt are taking steps to ensure the next generation of underrepresented students are not left out of what Smith calls the “4th Industrial Revolution.” For Smith, this has meant creating fertile ground for African American and female students to become part of the STEM workforce with $50 million to Cornell University. And, most recently, Smith gave $50 million to the Student Freedom Initiative, to allow students at historically Black colleges and universities the freedom to pursue STEM careers without the traditional debt burden which hinders Black and minority students more than other groups.
According to Georgetown researchers, pay gaps and hiring biases continue to plague Black, Latino and women workers with comparable educational backgrounds employed in similar positions.
But, with Smith, top Fortune 500 executives and even the Nasdaq Stock Exchange all loudly advocating for diversity at the corporate board level, we could soon see changes in hiring practices as well.
Read more about how Smith supports STEM education: