Tiding the STEM


Elliot_D_LassonA recent report by the Brookings Institution indicated that roughly a quarter of the jobs in the Baltimore area are STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
I have observed that in the U.S., with the Jewish community being no different, we love technology.

Smartphones, tablets, laptops.

We love to buy and use the stuff — and we are able to use it with great speed.
While we like being the end-users, the building and programming for those devices remains a disinterest.  That’s for someone else, most likely overseas.

From my professional perspective, I come across many job opportunities in a given day. In recruiter parlance, many of those postings are ‘hard to fill.’  Many of those opportunities include STEM jobs.

According to the report, in our area 57 percent require a bachelor’s degree. That leaves a decent percentage of jobs that are in STEM fields but do not require a four-year degree. In my role as a member of the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board, one of the initiatives that we have promoted is Skills2Compete-Maryland. This program is Gov. Martin O’Malley’s workforce development vision with a goal of increasing post-secondary success to strengthen the skills of Maryland’s workforce. Skills2Compete is a focused initiative that will increase the number of Marylanders who achieve at least two years of education or training past high school to meet the demands of local employers.

Let’s talk a bottom-line take-home message for students and parents.

The Brookings report showed how, on average, bachelor’s-degreed STEM jobs pay close to $88,000 per year, about $20,000 more than their non-STEM counterparts. A similar difference holds for STEM jobs requiring an associate’s degree or less, with an average of $58,504 per year, also about 40 percent higher than non-STEM jobs requiring the same education level.

Because of the government/contractor sectors in our area, the combination of specialized STEM skills and security clearance is a recipe for career stability.

I would therefore recommend that our local Jewish educational institutions pay attention to this significant trend and position students to compete for jobs in that space. This means re-evaluating the curriculum to determine whether it is aligned with STEM education’s best practices.  If the end game continues to be skewed toward either a liberal arts education or fields such as law and general business, this will continue to contribute to the underemplyment and unemployment that exists today.

While general education that includes reading, writing and general and Judaic knowledge is important, it is insufficient to align students with the demands of the job market.  The introspection of educational status quo and its trajectory needs to be done earlier.  Curricula must be developed to maximize STEM exposure using innovative delivery mechanisms.

Students who have inherent STEM acumen can gain not only the knowledge, but also the interest and passion to follow those tracks in their post-secondary educational endeavors.

In previous generations, technology was not even in the dictionary, and jobs were relatively constant.  Today, the operative paradigm is constant change.  Continuing education is a big part of keeping up.  Some of that might be formal, some skill-based.  We certainly cannot sit still.

Elliot D. Lasson, Ph.D., is executive director of Joblink of Maryland Inc.

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