What is the STEM skills gap?

Part three of an ongoing series based on our recent PPI report: Bridging the STEM skills gap: Employer/educator collaboration in New York

New York created close to 100,000 jobs between December 2015 and December 2016. Yet in many regions of the state the population is not growing.  (Population increases downstate and in the Capital Region/Hudson Valley, driven by the birth rate and immigration from foreign countries, are offset by upstate outmigration to other states.)  This means that employers who want to fill jobs are increasingly forced to select from the existing pool of potential workers. Nationally, the economy has added 11.6 million jobs since the recession bottomed out in 2010, and 99% of those have gone to workers with at least some college education, according to Anthony P. Carnevale and his team at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.  Since the recession hit in 2008, they found, there has been a net loss of 5.5 million jobs that required only a high school diploma.

STEM jobs, in particular, are growing at a faster rate than overall employment and require higher skill levels than do many jobs in retail, food service, and hospitality. Consistent with these trends, executives responding to a 2017 Public Policy Institute survey reported that health occupations and skilled production—both of which are STEM fields—are the categories in which they had the largest numbers of job openings in 2016.

As technology evolves, the skills that STEM employers seek are changing faster than our education system has traditionally been able to adapt to meet them.  Thus, the skills gap—a divide between the skills employers need and the skills workers possess—is a threat to New York’s competitiveness in the global economy.  Caught in the crunch, New York’s employers have taken the lead in investing in and partnering with education and training providers, in order to maximize the potential of workers in their own communities.

  • What kinds of institutions and programs are employers partnering with?
  • What do these partnerships look like in practice?
  • What are their main goals, and how successful are they?
  • What policy changes could make them even more successful?

Over the coming weeks, this blog series will describe how well-designed collaborative programs can take underperforming students, who might otherwise have dropped out of high school or required remedial classes in college, and get them back on track.  Working together, employers and educators are providing these students with the academic, technical, and professional skills and credentials they need to succeed in a STEM career.

Such programs are being replicated across New York State, but the funding needed to sustain them is not guaranteed, and they still serve only a fraction of the students and communities who could benefit.  If New York wants to maximize the economic future of its students and its businesses, creating model programs is not enough.  Policymakers, education leaders, and employers need to take the next step, using a data-driven approach to rethink and retool our entire education system with the goal of ensuring college- and career-readiness for all P-12 students, and completion of a degree or employer-recognized credential for all postsecondary students.  If it is willing to commit the necessary resources, New York has the opportunity to solidify its position as a leader—not just in designing and creating, but in scaling and sustaining innovative models that bring educators and employers together to meet the workforce needs of the 21st century.

Read part two of the series here.

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