STEM Leaders: This Will Be On The Test

Across the U.S., locations partner with educational entities to foster Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math skills to fill labor market demand.

By Nora Caley
From the May/June 2022 Issue

Jobs that require STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills are lucrative, but they are also among the hardest to fill today. There’s simply not enough people with these skill sets in the workforce, which makes those who earned degrees or certificates in STEM fields highly sought after. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in STEM occupations is projected to increase 10.5% from 2020 to 2030, or more than one million jobs. Meanwhile employment in non-STEM jobs is projected to increase 7.5%. The BLS noted that these occupations include computer and mathematical, architecture and engineering, and physical science occupations. Also according to the BLS, in 2021 STEM occupations had median annual wages of $95,420, while median wages for non-STEM occupations was $40,120.

Employers that hire these STEM graduates are poised to make important discoveries and drive economic growth. The challenge, though, is businesses are having trouble finding enough skilled workers. To remedy this, local entities are partnering with educational institutions to train the workforce of the future. The efforts are designed to make these programs more accessible to students, and to connect graduates with area employers. In this issue, Business Facilities recognizes examples of cities, states, economic development organizations, and others striving to close the talent gap. Here, in alphabetical order, are this year’s STEM Leaders and the ways they are fostering growth for these careers in their locations

STEM skills labor market
(Photo: Greater Rochester Enterprise)

Austin, TX: Overcoming Barriers

The Austin Chamber of Commerce, citing BLS numbers, noted that STEM occupations accounted for 11.1% of all jobs in Austin, TX in 2021, making this location the fifth most concentrated in STEM jobs among large U.S. metros. Most job postings in Austin, particularly those in STEM fields, require postsecondary degrees.

To fill this labor market demand, the Austin Chamber has partnered with area independent school districts Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Pflugerville ISD, Leander ISD, and Hutto ISD, which enroll a total of approximately 200,000 students. The Chamber’s Talent Ambassador program connects employers with schools and colleges so students can explore careers across a variety of industries and includes multiple employers in STEM fields.

STEM skills labor market
To meet labor demand, the Austin Chamber of Commerce partners with area independent school districts to help students explore STEM careers. (Photo: Austin Chamber of Commerce)

Other entities in the Austin area have programs to engage underrepresented students at early ages. The non-profit Latinitas works to empower Hispanic girls through media and technology. University of Texas at Austin hosts an annual Girl Day, with interactive activities. AuSTEM brings together companies that provide free STEM opportunities for students. TechLAB, a partnership between Boy Scouts of America and Austin ISD, is a youth day camp to kindle interest in tech and art fields. Girlstart offers camp, after school, and other STEM activities for girls.

There are also programs from a partnership between Austin ISD and P-TECH to provide mentoring, workplace learning, and internships for high school students. Navarro Early College High School partners with IBM to offer a P-TECH program in which students can complete an Associate of Applied Science Degree in either Computer Programming or User Experience Design while in high school. Northeast Early College High School partners with Dell to offer a PTECH program in which students can earn an Associate in Applied Science with a Cybersecurity Specialization.

“Austin is an attractive place for tech companies because of our talent,” said Gilbert Zavala, Vice President of Education and Talent Development for the Austin Chamber of Commerce. “To remain competitive we must ensure our next generation of local STEM talent can access the postsecondary education and training they need to compete for high-demand jobs in Central Texas. These efforts will deepen our overall talent pool and provide opportunities for young people to get interested and involved in STEM careers.”

Huntsville, AL: Playing A Role In Space

Huntsville, AL, is known as Rocket City for its role in putting astronauts on the moon. Lucia Cape, Senior Vice President of Economic Development for the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, said the area has the highest concentration of engineers in the U.S., a reflection of its STEM-focused economy tied to aerospace, defense, information technology, advanced manufacturing, and life sciences. “STEM education is a priority for the community to prepare today’s students for the jobs of the future,” she said.

Cape said there are three school systems in Huntsville/Madison County that serve more than 56,000 students in pre-K-12. All three systems offer career academies within the schools and at centralized career tech centers. Of the 37 academies, 22 are in science, technology, engineering, or math. For example, New Century Technology High School is a public magnet school in the Huntsville City Schools System and ranked second in Alabama by US News and World Report. New Century serves more than 400 students in grades 9-12, who select an academic strand in engineering, computer science, or biomedical science. Students earn industry certifications and partner with employers such as Northrop Grumman and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology for hands-on experience.

Huntsville is also home to the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering, a statewide public magnet school integrating cybersecurity into the engineering process. The school is in its second year and will move into its new facility in Cummings Research Park for the 2022-2023 school year. ASCTE draws students from across the state with boarding facilities available.

Also, Huntsville is the national headquarters for the Greenpower USA program. “Greenpower engages elementary, middle, and high school teams to advance the understanding of STEM topics and inspire innovation in young people through the immersive experience of designing, building, and racing electric-powered vehicles” Cape said. “Teams from across the country come to Huntsville to compete in the Greenpower USA Toyota Classic.”

The Rocket City’s biggest STEM education asset, Cape said, is the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Home to Space Camp, the Rocket Center is a state park and a Smithsonian affiliate that serves as the official visitor’s center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. In addition to Space Camp for all ages, the Rocket Center operates Aviation Camp, US Cyber Camp, and Space Camp Robotics. The camps attract 40,000 participants annually from around the world.

Madison, WI: Helping Students Get An Early Start

To help students discover if STEM courses interest them, in 2015 the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) launched Inspire Madison Region, a software component of the web-based program Xello, which the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) made available to all public school districts. While Xello allows students to learn about specific occupations based on interests and abilities, the Inspire Madison Region component enables students to connect via the interactive platform with mentors and career coaches. Students also participate in job shadowing, internships, and apprenticeships at local employers.

“Through the connections Inspire provides, MadREP is facilitating student awareness of local career opportunities and growing the future workforce in the Madison region,” said Gene Dalhoff, Vice President of Talent and Education. Through Inspire Madison Region, 70,000 students can connect with 500 career coaches as well as over 400 companies, many of which offer career-based learning experiences for students.

Another MadREP and Wisconsin DPI program, Wisconsin Pathways—Madison Region, is a region-wide effort to deliver high-quality career pathways in high schools. The pathways focus on occupations associated with high-skill, in-demand industry sectors. Students complete a pathway by taking a sequence of aligned courses, earning an industry-recognized credential, enrolling in dual college credit classes, participating in career-based and work-based learning experiences, and accessing related Career and Technical Education (CTE) student organizations.

Dalhoff said the pathways offer benefits for high school students and for employers. Students gain education and training that align with the needs of the local job market, and a high school diploma with at least one industry-recognized credential. Employers gain partnerships with a greater number of schools.

Another recent effort is the expansion of Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Labs) in school districts throughout the Madison Region. Fab Labs provide the physical space, equipment, instruction, teamwork, and other resources necessary for students to explore STEM-related topics and engage in projects.

MadREP is working to engage with even more students in the region. “Looking to the future, we will prioritize growing opportunities to support the BIPOC community through economic development strategies and policies that prioritize funding STEM-related endeavors,” said Jason M. Fields, MadREP’s President and CEO. “Students of color need to see themselves reflected in the industry to believe it is possible.”

Rochester, NY: A New View

Approximately 17,000 Rochester, NY residents are employed in the optics, photonics, and imaging industry. The area is home to remote-sensing companies such as L3Harris, supply-chain firms such as Corning, JML Optical, Rochester Precision Optics, IDEX Health & Science, and smaller ventures such as Lumetrics and VisualDx. Rochester is a research and manufacturing hub supported by the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and Rochester Institute of Technology Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science and Lobozzo Photonics and Optical Characterization Lab. The region also generates a vast number of the nation’s patents in optics, photonics, and imaging technologies.

Greater Rochester Enterprise
(Photo: Greater Rochester Enterprise)

To develop a future workforce, the Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center on Monroe Community College’s (MCC) downtown Rochester campus is a new state-of-the-art facility that will train at least 2,500 students for in-demand careers in manufacturing and technology. The Center is designed to focus on short-term and accelerated training that place individuals in high-demand jobs within advanced manufacturing, information technology, skilled trades apprenticeships, and professional services.

“As Industry 4.0 changes the way all of us live and do business, it’s critical employers have access to a workforce that is able to use smart technologies in business environments,” said Dr. DeAnna R. Burt-Nanna, President of MCC. “The newly opened Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center is home to affordable, high-caliber education and training programs accessible to diverse learners across the region, preparing them for in-demand tech-oriented careers that pay living wages and are less vulnerable to future displacement.”

MCC has seen high growth in its dual-enrollment optics program. Local high school students (nearly 300 in 2021-22) take optics courses in their home school and, upon completing each course, earn college credits.

In 2021, MCC opened its renovated, cutting-edge optical fabrication laboratory. Funded through grants from Corning Incorporated Foundation and the federal Office of Naval Research, the 1,400-square-foot lab doubled the capacity of machines to better meet employers’ and students’ training needs. The new manufacturing equipment includes a diamond-turning lathe for manufacturing parts with nanoscale precision for autonomous vehicles, missile guidance systems, telescopes, TV projectors, and other applications.

City Of Tucson, AZ: Partnering With Centers Of Excellence

Tucson has long partnered with local institutions of higher education, including Pima Community College. Pima has several Centers of Excellence designed to drive economic growth in the region and train students for in-demand careers. The Center of Excellence in Applied Technology, based in Pima’s expanding downtown campus, features the new Automotive Technology and Innovation Center that provides learners with leading-edge equipment and tools to learn to maintain and repair internal combustion, light diesel, and electric vehicles. Also in the Center of Excellence in Applied Technology is the Aviation Technology Center, a nationally recognized program that provides training on commercial jets. Pima is currently completing construction of an Advanced Technology Building to train people in robotics, additive manufacturing, and drone tech.

There has been a deepened connection between the Workforce Development (WFD) unit and leading economic development and municipal entities in the region. “The WFD takes part in discussions with businesses seeking to relocate or expand in Pima County, and supports those efforts through tours of our facilities, data, and customized solutions,” said Lee D. Lambert, J.D., Chancellor of Pima Community College.

STEM skills labor market
Rendering of the Advanced Manufacturing Center at Pima Community College in the City of Tucson, AZ. The college is the site of multiple Centers of Excellence focused on emerging and high-tech skills. (Photo: City of Tucson)

The college has a long-term partnership with the autonomous vehicle manufacturer TuSimple, resulting in a first-in-the-nation Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist certificate program for truck drivers “Similarly, our participation in the initiative that brought Caterpillar Inc. to Tucson has led to the creation of our Applied Technology Academy, in which Caterpillar engineers augment their theoretical training by getting their hands dirty in our machining and welding labs,” Lambert said.

Also, the PimaFastTrack program is for adult learners seeking short-term, non-credit training in high-demand careers. The college created the curriculum in collaboration with business and industry to offer the skills employers need now. Most FastTracks can be completed in three to four months, and learners who complete the program receive industry-recognized credentials. Pima offers FastTracks in Information Technology/Cybersecurity, Automated Industrial Technology, Automotive Technology, and other programs.

Last year the City of Tucson hosted SheTech Explorer Day, an event that provided 150 high school girls the opportunity to engage with STEM through hands-on activities and interaction with mentors. The SheTech program was created by the Women Tech Council and first presented in Utah in 2014, and came to Arizona for the first time in 2020 at an event at the University of Arizona, also in Tucson.

Washington, DC: Preparing For STEM And Life Skills

According to the DC Department of Employment Services (DOES), the District of Columbia is projected to have an increase of 15,970 STEM occupations from 2018 to 2028, an increase of 11.4%. At the same time, non-STEM occupations will increase by 8.4%.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has several initiatives to prepare students not only for tech jobs but also for life after school. According to the OSSE website, STEM skills and knowledge help students develop logic, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills that can them compete for tech jobs, and help them in any discipline. The office has two goals: to prepare all students in DC to graduate high school with a college- and career-ready mastery of STEM skills, and to increase the number of students who major in STEM fields in college and enter STEM careers.

To reach these goals, OSSE is developing education pathways to support STEM awareness from pre-K to post-secondary education, develop systems of support, create equitable opportunities for students to engage in career pathways, and engage the community. The programs include the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a grant program that enables area organizations to provide academic enrichment services. The OSSE also supports and funds programs that help students prepare for and apply to colleges.

The efforts are important as Washington, DC is currently attracting many corporate headquarters and tech companies. Among the recent announcements: global water technology company Xylem is moving their global headquarters to the Capitol Riverfront from Rye, NY; TikTok parent ByteDance signed a lease for 50,000 square feet of office space in the Signal House building in Northeast DC; and Google announced it was expanding its office space in downtown DC.

In March Mayor Muriel Bowser and Google announced a $1 million grant to support Community College Prep Academy (CC Prep) to expand the school’s IT Pathways program. The funds will cover scholarships for 250 learners to take a Google Career Certificate training program. The partnership with Google, Mayor Bowser said in a press release, “aligns with our larger goal of ensuring DC residents have access to jobs and careers in high-demand, high-growth, and good-paying industries.”

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