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STEM education is the key to a thriving workforce? Not so fast
Caroline Corona   on Friday, June 15, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

This week in unpopular opinions – is STEM overrated (Industry Week)? Policymakers continually push for more emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math education, but this may be counterproductive. Only 7 percent of the national workforce is in STEM careers, and in some states that figure is as low as 3 percent (Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce). While conventional wisdom says there is a universal shortage of STEM-educated workers, the problem is much more nuanced.

Yes, strong STEM education can lead to more discoveries, innovations, and eventually, jobs. But several studies indicate soft skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and resilience are equally as important to regional economies. Labor markets with high-level soft skills and low-level STEM skills experience higher median wages (Upjohn Institute). Additionally, not all STEM jobs require a four-year degree or are high-paying, including some healthcare occupations. Investing in STEM education in a region that can’t supply the jobs to satisfy those workers may actually drive them to other markets.

Workforce demands differ across states and regions, and local leaders must consider the types of jobs available when investing in education. Calgary, for example, identified specific skill deficiencies in the tech sector and is preparing mid-career workers to rapidly transition to these jobs (CED). EvolveU is a boot camp-style program that teaches skills in data, design, business, and technology, enabling workers to pivot to better-paying jobs is growing sectors.


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