Eric Spiegel is the U.S. CEO of Siemens Corporation, a global energy and engineering company with operations in 190 countries. This piece runs Monday in the AJC Opinion pages;
By Eric Spiegel
Some of America’s most promising students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) recently competed in the nation’s premier math and science competition at Georgia Tech. Every year, our company hosts the competition to support the best and brightest high school students – the next great innovators.
They aren’t the ones I worry about. As the CEO of a company that employs more than 60,000 employees in all 50 states, I’m much more concerned with those who shudder at the thought of algebra or chemistry; those who don’t realize that in the new economy, even in fields you wouldn’t expect, STEM proficiency is essential.
Over the past decade, STEM job openings grew three times faster than non-STEM jobs. STEM workers are expected to earn, on average, 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. Even among workers with a high school diploma or less, those with STEM proficiency will earn, on average, 36 percent more than those without it. Last year, when the unemployment rate reached 10 percent, STEM unemployment remained at 5.3 percent.
At our company, we employ thousands of scientists and engineers. But our salespeople also need to have enough of a technical background to discuss the merits of our products with expertise. Our marketers need to be fluent in the language of medicine, energy, and high-tech manufacturing. None of these jobs are what you would typically think of as STEM-fields, yet today, all of them require a STEM background.
But STEM isn’t just a ticket to a good job. It’s also a ticket back to the kind of prosperity that used to define the American economy.
In a global economy where capital flows freely across borders, businesses are going to invest where the talent is. That’s a problem in the U.S. – where a recent Manpower survey found that 52 percent of employers are having trouble finding qualified workers to fill key jobs that require advanced science and math skills. A recent Harvard study found that poor math skills could cost the U.S. economy $75 trillion over the next 80 years.
Our company has more than 3,000 U.S. job openings right now-and yet, only 10 percent of applicants pass the series of tests we put potential employees through to fill these jobs. For the first time, we’ve had to hire recruiters to help fill them. We are facing a skills gap, a failure to develop a workforce that can meet the needs of the new job market.
There are several ways we can confront this problem. One, of course, is to reform our education system to emphasize and improve STEM education. Many of the primary problems-from the shortage of qualified science teachers to a lack of advanced science classes in low income and rural areas-are entirely solvable. We need a national commitment to flexibility and innovation in classrooms, as well as scholarships and other incentives to produce a new generation of STEM teachers.
Another is for employers to take more responsibility in developing the workforce of the future. Each year, our company spends about $50 million in the U.S. on job training. In North Carolina, for example, we are partnering with Central Piedmont Community College to help local students develop the technical skills necessary to work in the new digital manufacturing environment.
But I believe there is another, perhaps more important route that we, as a nation-as parents-can take right now.
We need to take the dread out of math and science homework-for students AND parents. There are terrific tools, including innovative online sites, which can help all of us brush up on STEM skills while helping our children. Improving these scores is not simply the responsibility of our schools or teachers-it’s up to all of us.
Take Seth and Louise Pollack. From the second grade on they encouraged Ben’s interest in science, from helping him build the requisite solar system model in their garage, to listening as he practiced his presentations, and encouraging him to pursue independent research. With his parents’ support, Ben’s enthusiasm for problem-solving culminated in his second-place finish in the team category of the 2005 Siemens Competition, with a project on geographically-isolated fruit flies that demonstrated a rare case of incipient speciation (forming two species from one). Now that’s what I call “outside-the-box” thinking!
We need more parents to actively encourage their children’s success in STEM. Today, Ben is an Emerging Technologies and Metrics Specialist on our Health Care communications team, applying his analytical and research skills to help us better serve our customers.
Like the Pollacks, we need to instill the value of science, math, and technology in our kids in their earliest years. It doesn’t matter if they are going to be engineers or not. It doesn’t even matter if they plan to go to college or not. Their future-and ours-depends on their ability to master a skill set they’ll need in the jobs of the future.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog