Full employment sounds good, right? Who doesn’t like to be full? Unfortunately, full employment is not a positive attribute for the technology landscape in the Puget Sound region. The area’s technology workforce is educated, well-compensated and extremely innovative. But there aren’t enough qualified professionals to support the ever-increasing needs of Washington state tech companies.
Studies show that about 80 percent of the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. depend upon the mastery of mathematics and scientific knowledge and skills, but students are not currently equipped to satisfy this growing need.
It is expected that jobs based on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will grow as much as three times faster than non-STEM jobs over the next 10 years. Closing the gap between the supply and the demand for talented employees is a shared desire across the vast and ever-growing tech landscape in Washington.
So how did we get to this point, and how can we fix it? We know that improving our STEM education is a complex problem with no one-size-fits-all solution. By increasing the emphasis on the importance of STEM education and by all working together — private sector, nonprofits, colleges and universities, school districts, and local, state and federal governments — we may find just the solution we need.
For the Puget Sound area to remain the global leader in innovation and technology, we have to tackle these challenges with an “all hands on deck” approach.
We must address this challenge not only at the collegiate level, but, most importantly, by investing at the elementary level by hiring, developing and retaining excellent STEM teachers. Since STEM is becoming increasingly important for our youth, our region must work to educate our current and future generations of students and help them to understand the significance of technology.
Students should be advised on the merits of taking as many math and science courses as possible, and we should provide them with the resources to do so. The courses need to be taught by engaged and enthusiastic teachers using hands-on and minds-on activities.
Making math and science courses enjoyable and interesting will not only help students to learn but might also plant the “seed of interest” that could grow into an exciting and rewarding STEM career. We absolutely need to strengthen the connection between teachers and students by investing in new and innovative solutions that can help unlock students’ potential.
Investing in the future of STEM makes sense for local companies such as Microsoft, Amazon.com, Boeing, Paccar, Seattle Genetics and Dendreon, along with the hundreds of companies that compete in the global software, biotech and engineering fields. More importantly, a strong and developed STEM education system will lead to the next Microsoft-like company to be launched locally, fueling the regional economy even further.
Importing talent — H-1B visas, national recruiting, etc. — is a short-term fix that is necessary today to try to meet the current demand. However, we must focus on developing local STEM talent to address the region’s long-term needs.
Here in the Puget Sound area, we have the talent and intellectual horsepower to create the world’s next technology mecca – but it is up to every citizen to push our government, our schools and our employers to invest in the future of our region and our youth through education.
View the original article published by the Puget Sound Business Journal.