The fields of science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM, have gained a lot of attention in the recent years the United States. The US is lagging behind several countries when it comes to math and science education. STEM is critical for global competitiveness; however the field is not attracting or retaining as many professionals as in the past. This month at LTAW we will be talking about this field in particular – what is it, how can you get into it and why STEM is critical to the future.
While record numbers of jobs are being lost in industries like manufacturing, mining, and utilities and transportation, those jobs that remain require STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills. In fact, many fields require STEM skills, even in non-STEM jobs. So, what are STEM skills, and why are they important?
STEM skills are those skills we use to process and solve problems. When we run into a problem at work, skills such as critical thinking and active learning help us process information more quickly. We use problem-solving skills to identify the problem, develop and evaluate options, and create and implement solutions. If you ever need to troubleshoot a situation at work, analyze data, or just create a simple spreadsheet to track sales, you are using STEM skills.
In today’s world, technology is changing rapidly. Many mundane, and sometimes unsafe, jobs that used to be performed by humans are now performed by machines. However, running and maintaining the machines, as well as understanding what to do when something goes wrong with them, requires workers with STEM skills.
Technology also allows companies to gather huge amounts of data, which can be sliced and diced in hundreds of ways, targeting customers and clients with precision. As a result, many jobs that traditionally might not have required analysis skills now do. Understanding how to make meaning from big data and create solutions based on it are STEM skills.
Why bother developing STEM skills if you’re not in a STEM career? Dr. Richard Larson from MIT said it best:
Becoming knowledgeable about STEM is not about the 0.01% who might become Ph.D. researchers or the 1% who might become engineers. In this data-informed, technology intensive 21st Century the entire populace needs to become STEM literate. We all need STEM thinking skills. Many apparently non-STEM jobs have become STEM jobs, especially in the trades. Do you know that the average new car has about 50 microprocessors? Forget about crawling under it with a few of your Dad’s old tools to fix it! And Moore’s Law of computers, which has resulted in the iPhone being equivalent to a multi-ton supercomputer of the 1970’s, has affected most other trades as well. But perhaps the most important reason for everyone to become STEM literate is to build a more informed citizenry. In that way we individually and collectively become better decision makers about all the options that our world and we face. STEM is not only for Ph.D. researchers. It’s for all of us!
Getting to Know STEM!