We all know how important it is to get students interested in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math. But we also know that STEM doesn't always have the best reputation among teens—with perceptions ranging from science being “hard” or boring. And yet, the news is not all bad.
Case in point. Every year ASQ surveys teenagers about various STEM topics. In our 2015 survey, 80 percent of teens said they admire engineers' problem-solving abilities and 68 percent think engineers get paid a high salary. Only 38 percent, however, think that engineers can easily get a job.
To us at ASQ, the survey underscores that teens have at least some interest in STEM, but worry about the job market. Are their fears unwarranted? According to various sources, the U.S. may have a STEM skills shortage, and many such jobs are going unfilled. (You can read more about the state of STEM jobs in this U.S. News and World Report opinion piece and The Bayer Facts of Science Education XVI survey.)
So, what to do about this problem? Specifically, what can small, local business do—and why should they care? Note that unfilled STEM jobs slow down business growth, lower productivity, and lead to lower revenues--whether you're a STEM business or not. In ASQ's 2014 Engineering Week survey, we asked our members to give engineering students some advice. Their suggestions apply just as much to businesses that may be employing such students as interns or staff.
• Be a mentor. If you're a small-business owner in Milwaukee, consider becoming a mentor, formally or informally. For students, the “the best way to learn about leadership is by seeing it demonstrated in real life, not out of a book.”
• Build relationships. Do you have a relationship with a local school, university, or STEM program? This can be a source of potential future interns, apprentices, and employees.
• Consider STEM-related sponsorships. For example, a local doctor's office might support students with a sponsorship to a Science Olympiad team or a small manufacturer might partner with students who are participating in a robotics club. You could also look into opportunities to speak about your own STEM-related field during career days at school.
• Provide a business education. Students who go into STEM benefit from understanding business basics and how to communicate with the C-suite. Even if your business is not in the STEM field, any potential science student will gain from your knowledge and experience.
• Educate yourself as a parent. Frequently, parents with no background in STEM fields are not aware of the opportunities in those areas, and consequently do not educate their kids in the vast career opportunities available. If your child shows interest in math or science, it's time to read up on the different career paths available. Does your child want to be a mechanical or civil engineer? What about a career in nanotechnology, biomechanics, or astrophysics? There are so many choices available and you should start educating yourself so that you can have informed conversations with your children.
Small businesses can play an important role in helping to encourage the next generation of STEM professionals. It's time to step up to the plate.
William Troy is the CEO of ASQ, the Global Voice of Quality which is headquartered in Milwaukee. Troy is a retired three-star general with a military career spanning 38 years. He has led operations all over the globe – from Alaska to Texas, from Germany to Saudi Arabia and Iraq.