News Journal: STEM programs show promise for future generations

There are more important goals in life than making money. And there are many fulfilling job choices available for liberal arts majors. But if your children have any aptitude for science or math, a new report from the Brookings Institute should certainly encourage them to consider a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and career.
Brookings looked at millions of employment advertisements and measured how long it took for employers to find qualified applicants for different jobs. We have learned to be suspicious of complicated studies that turned out to be flawed in one way or another – what’s healthy to eat, the value of certain drugs, etc. But this report is based on a theory so simple it is hard to argue with it: The longer it takes to fill a job, the more someone in that career field is in demand. The findings couldn’t be clearer:
“The median duration of advertising for a STEM vacancy is more than twice as long as for a non-STEM vacancy. For STEM openings requiring a Ph.D. or other professional degree, advertisements last an average of 50 days, compared to 33 days for all non-STEM vacancies. Even sub-bachelor’s STEM job openings take longer to fill than non-STEM jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree. Health care and computer openings are advertised 23 and 15 days longer, on average, than openings for non-STEM occupations, like those in office and administrative support. Moreover, professional STEM vacancies take longer to fill now than before the recession, while vacancies for lower-skilled occupations remain much easier to fill. These indicators signal that STEM skills are in short supply in the labor market, relative to demand.”
The report then reaches an obvious but important conclusion for anyone considering a future career:
“These job openings data provide new evidence that, post-recession, STEM skills, particularly those associated with high levels of educational attainment, are in high demand among employers. Meanwhile, job seekers possessing neither STEM knowledge nor higher education face extraordinary levels of competition for a scarce number of jobs. Governments at all levels, educators, training organizations, and civic leaders can utilize job vacancy data to better understand the opportunities available to workers and the specific skills required of them. Improving educational and training opportunities to acquire STEM knowledge should be part of any strategy to help unemployed or low-wage workers improve their earnings and employability.”
The full report is available at -stem-skills#/M10420.
We all have different talents and interests, and you can’t and shouldn’t push a kid with zero interest into a STEM education. But many young people with skills and aptitude simply drift through high school without answering the important questions: What do you like to do? What are you good at? How do you want to make a difference?
One great way to introduce young people to what STEM is all about is the Technology Student Association. It has chapters at 17 Delaware high schools and middle schools. It gives students a chance to move beyond the classroom and get real hands-on experience with technical problems.
Delaware’s TSA students have just returned from competing at the 36th Annual National Technology Student Association Conference in Washington, D.C., and they did quite well. Some 151 Delaware students competed in 101 individual and 93 team events, such as architectural renovation, CAD 3-D, career preparation, dragster design, electrical applications, fashion design, flight endurance, geospatial technology, green manufacturing, inventions and innovations, manufacturing prototype, on-demand video, open source software development, promotional graphics, structural engineering, system control technology, technical design, technology problem-solving, vex robotics, video game design, and website design. Delaware students finished in the top 10 in several events.
Another of my favorite organizations that gives students the opportunity to get hands-on STEM experience is First State Robotics, which has programs starting in kindergarten. You can learn about it at
Most Delaware high schools have some kind of STEM program. Find out what yours has available, and do what you can to make sure the program is as good as it can be.
STEM-educated or not, that’s what we want for all of our children – to be as good as they can be at whatever career they choose.
Ted Kaufman is a former U.S. senator from Delaware.