Shawn Wright| Crain’s Detroit Business
With careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics increasingly in high demand, there has been an uphill battle for industry and academia alike to train the next generation of workers.
Schools, workforce development agencies, industries and others are together taking up the fight. The goal: create strategies to get future generations involved in the so-called STEM related fields.
“What we would look to do is show the students how math and science fits in,” said Lisa Gordon, a career liaison in Michigan’s Career Jump Start program. “Where industry comes in is to help really paint the picture and let students see the relevance in taking these academic courses. If they’re not exposed to it, they’re not going to know it exists and they won’t have any opportunity to even get interested.”
Implemented this year, the Career Jump Start program targets students who are going into the technical or skilled-trade certificate programs and industries that are already expressing need for skilled applicants like welders, mechanical engineers and health care careers.
With Gordon at the helm, the Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN) oversees the program in Region 10, encompassing Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. The partnership is conducted through Oakland Community College. A total of 10 career liaison specialists are placed at community colleges around the state.
During her first two months on the job, Gordon has been focusing on opening dialogue with workforce development boards, career technical education coordinators in each county, and “meeting with them to see what is needed and how we fit in,” she said.
“Ideally, we want these students to keep moving forward so they can have a lot of options with their career and provide a good life for their family and themselves,” Gordon said. “We also want to raise awareness to the parents about what advanced manufacturing and skilled trades really entails. It’s not what they thought it used to be.”
Focusing on exposure and re-educating parents to help students make the connection to coursework and practical workplace applications is important, Gordon said. An example of this can be found in middle school and high school robotics competitions, where students get real-world engineering experience in an engaging setting.
“Making it fun is what is going to help them get interested,” Gordon said. “Science and math is not boring, but it’s sometimes taught in a way that is.”
Having STEM strategies to get children and teens interested in these technical careers also means they have a better chance to get hired. There are close to 70,000 job postings, according to data from WIN, in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties right now.
There are 17,000 engineering openings, 15,000 in health care-related STEM jobs, 7,700 skilled trade jobs and 29,000 IT jobs. All of which paying more than the standard median salary of $16 per hour, some jobs paying as much as $40 per hour.
The future prospective employees can also cash in on the STEM-related fields. If Michigan employers are unable to fill 75 percent of the jobs in the STEM field, workers will miss out on high-paying jobs, most between $25 and $40 per hour, according to a recent analysis by WIN.
The unfilled jobs will leave $1.9 billion in annual wages on the table, and not in the pockets of prospective employees, according to WIN’s data. The number, based on multiplying the total number of potentially unfilled positions by the average wage for STEM jobs, underscores the talent shortage. In essence, there could be 15,000 lost jobs per year in the state of Michigan.
Those in the industry see the need for STEM-educated employees, more than ever. For example, Ford Motor Co. requires STEM talent in order to meet its production requirements.
Some of Ford’s positions available along the design pipeline and supply chain requiring STEM skills include chemical engineers, controls engineers, manufacturing planning specialists and automation engineers, among dozens more.
“Ford is very, very, very involved with STEM,” said MavaMarie Vandervennet, technical training manager for Ford. “It’s about trying to find a different way to get people up to speed quicker, to have a love for engineering and know that it’s exciting. We take it very seriously.”
Some examples of Ford’s programs include its Next Generation Learning, which mobilizes educators, employers and community leaders to develop a new generation who will graduate career-ready.
In addition, the automaker also works on STEM through the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies, a high school curriculum that engages students in high-demand fields such as engineering, alternative energy and business, providing students with critical skills needed to succeed in college and the workplace. The program currently reaches more than 100,000 students in 27 states.
“Post-secondary education, specifically in technical fields, is key to creating a workforce with the skills needed by employers in an increasingly technical work environment,” said Naheed Huq, leader of plan implementation for the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments(SEMCOG). “Careers in manufacturing and health care particularly require higher levels of technical training than in the past. By exposing students to a range of career opportunities early on, they will have a better idea about education and career pathways, challenges and rewards.”
Both SEMCOG and the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition (MAC) are interested in the issue of talent, whether soft skills or technical education, because it is critical to economic stability and the growth of Southeast Michigan, Huq said.
SEMCOG and MAC recently combined to create the STEM Careers and Skilled Trades Task Force. The new effort supports the work of K-12, community colleges, labor, workforce development and community organizations in encouraging students of all ages to pursue technical and skilled trades careers, based on their interests, skills, aptitudes, and current and future job demand.
The task force wants to develop a comprehensive strategy for exposing school children, college students and displaced adults to technical and STEM education and skilled trades careers.
In addition, the task force hopes to raise and broaden awareness of career opportunities, job availability, and cultural preferences by developing and promoting an array of career and educational opportunities. These include: post-secondary education focused on industry-approved credentials, career technical education track in K-12, and two- and four-year degrees that include STEM fields.
“There’s a general recognition that STEM careers are in demand and that there have been difficulties getting into the field,” Huq said. “But it has to be done in partnership. We need employers to say, ‘These are the skills we need.’ We need the education system to expose students to a wider range of career opportunities. Ultimately, collaboration is key to making this happen.”