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Jobs Learning

America’s Economic Recovery Hinges on STEM Education

120492692Of all of the potential threats to an economic recovery in the United States, one issue stands above the rest for companies like Dow.

The issue isn’t tax reform. It isn’t energy prices. It’s not even budget issues in Washington. All of those are important. Perhaps the most important issue for us at Dow—the one that has the potential to either wreck or resurrect the American economy—is whether this country has enough qualified workers to sustain the economic recovery that we see looming just over the horizon.

Here are the facts: After a decade of plant shutdowns and production shifts to other parts of the world, the American manufacturing landscape is once again competitive. Thanks largely to new energy resources, companies are once again investing in the U.S.

Those investments are fueling massive potential job growth, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The Department of Commerce reports that STEM occupations have grown three times as fast as non-STEM jobs over the past 10 years and that by 2018, the country will have 8.6 million STEM-related jobs to fill.

So we’re excited about the potential economic growth and the potential for real job growth.

But the lack of qualified workers threatens to derail this scenario.

Projections show that by 2018, U.S. colleges and universities will have produced three million fewer college graduates than the labor market needs. And our secondary schools are producing only a fraction of students who pursue advanced STEM education opportunities.

The result? By 2020, there could be as many as 12-24 million vacant STEM jobs globally as companies—and countries—compete for talent. Projections show that California by itself will need more than one million STEM-educated workers. New York will need nearly 500,000. And Michigan will need more than 250,000 new individuals who have the necessary technical training and background to sustain a real recovery.

Even today a frenzied construction environment in Texas is fueling a 22-percent increase in STEM-related jobs for engineers, electricians, scientists, technologists, maintenance specialists, technicians, and other highly skilled manufacturing jobs. The fierce competition, even among individual companies, is unsustainable.

Without qualified and skilled workers, the U.S. will lose its competitive advantage and a real, meaningful economic recovery will pass us by with devastating consequences.

To correct this imbalance and help ensure an economic recovery, Dow believes the country should focus on four key areas.

  • We should commit ourselves to improving teachers’ skills through mentoring and formal training.
  • We should engage our students with hands-on learning as a model to build, support and grow the STEM pipeline.
  • We should encourage creative partnerships and collaborations that support stronger curricula and better educational and trade facilities.
  • And we should advocate on both the national and local levels for high-performing teachers and stronger, more effective STEM-based curricula.

We recognize that if this were an easy problem to solve, the country would have done it years ago. The interplay of economic development, education and competitiveness is as complex as it is challenging.

But it’s essential that we get it right. And it’s even more essential that we start now.

By working together in collaborative efforts, by engaging with students early and often, by committing time and resources to support our teachers, and by continuing to push and advocate and educate all of our stakeholders, I’m confident we can not only make a difference but that we can make a lasting contribution to the economic vitality and sustainability of the American economy.

Carol Williams is executive vice president of Dow Chemical Company’s manufacturing and engineering, supply chain, and environmental, health, and safety operations. She will be speaking in a session about jobs at Techonomy Detroit on September 17.

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