The technological age has always been a complex and ever-changing landscape that requires Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) skills to successfully navigate this rapidly growing space. STEM careers have increased by 79% since the 1990s and are projected to continue to grow by at least 13% into 2027.
STEM skills are more important now more than ever because it enhances one’s capacity to innovate and use technology and science as a tool to solve problems. The global health crisis is one of many areas where STEM can and will continue to step up to the plate and revolutionize industries that have been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. STEM skills, education, and practices influence every part of society and will play a critical role in the trajectory of America’s future in the global technology race.
STEM Skills Cultivate Empathy
As byproducts of the current state of our world, many of us have learned new lessons in empathy very recently, and the correlation between STEM skills and empathy is striking. The cognitive skills needed to create technical solutions for real-world problems require the capacity to work with people, understand issues from another perspective, and gather requirements to craft technical solutions. Even in writing code, many Software Engineers exert an empathetic approach to coding. Engineers look to create sustainable, scalable, and organized coding solutions and documentation that help other Engineers quickly ramp-up and navigate projects.
Empathy has become a defining characteristic in the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) body of knowledge. HCI researchers and practitioners use methods such as narrative, biography, and role-play to understand users and their experiences. Empathy has helped build relationships between designers, users, and research artifacts to provide thorough study outcomes that maximize results that create dynamic user experiences.
STEM Skills Can be Cultivated in K-12 Education
The International Council of Associations for Science Educators (ICASE) has been actively working to urge countries to solve STEM access issues to K-12 learners. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has worked to progress STEM programs in America’s K-12 education system. Studies by the Department of Education have found that early exposure to STEM has positive impacts across the entire learning spectrum. The National Research Council has shared study results, which determined that early math knowledge predicts later math success and helps develop long-term reading and comprehension skills.
The recent move to online K-12 learning programs allows more students access to STEM learning curriculum as part of their regular school day. Many leading companies and brands have provided free tools and resources for students to access STEM education. Schools that have adopted the new Common Core math curriculum standards are continuing with at-home modules that students can study. This rigorous math program is a beacon of hope for the many STEM advocates that are looking for permanent STEM education fixtures.
STEM Skills Impact America’s Future
The demand for technology solutions, software, and scientific research continues to soar, and U.S. companies are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill positions. In 2015, there were nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs representing 6.2 percent of U.S. employment and the trend will continue to move upward.
At its core, the problem is that students' lack interest, motivation, resources, and support to pursue and excel in technical degree programs. 16.8% of U.S. degrees are STEM-related. Whereas, in Japan, the proportion is 64%, and in China, it is 52.1%. The danger in staying the current course that America is now charting is a potential “Brain Drain” effect, which refers to losing educated workers that choose to return to native countries.
STEM Skills are Changing the World
Global societies are becoming increasingly advanced, and technology is more embedded in our daily lives than ever before. STEM has accelerated advancement in some of the world’s most critical industries, such as logistics, manufacturing, healthcare, farming, and beyond. Science has been at the forefront of the global health crisis and has paved the way for the accelerated propulsion of vaccinations and treatments for COVID-19.
Rebuilding the U.S. economy that has been ravaged by a virus, unemployment, social unrest, and sudden economic downturn will require a new way of thinking and big ideas that move the needle in progress. STEM education is leading worldwide efforts to rebuild and is quickly progressing permanent solutions that are creating cleaner spaces and fighting disease.