is stem taking root?

David Darbyshire

David Darbyshire

It’s no secret. Southeast Michigan’s talent pipeline is in trouble. Business, as well as industry leaders, are becoming concerned that when the future arrives, there will be a shortage of workers needed to operate effectively. With more than 58,000 workers reaching retirement each year, the skilled trades gap of the future workforce is growing more inevitable.

A recent survey conducted by the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives will be leveraged by state officials to gain a better understanding of the needs of employers around the state. This was the first such survey conducted in the state of Michigan since 2006. It will serve as a starting point to understand how the demand for middle-skills jobs, especially those in skilled trades, will increase in the near future. Employers will be looking to fill a projected 6,700 skilled trade job openings each year through 2022.

Three of the five most in-demand jobs for recent college graduates are in the field of engineering. This trend has been on the rise since the economy’s recovery from the 2008 recession. The manufacturing industry, where most skilled trades jobs are found, is at the top of the list of industries where employers feel most optimistic about hiring prospects. Engineering careers are one of the most desirable career paths for college students these days. Many universities, including the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, have seen significant enrollment increases in each of the last 10 years. This current fall/winter semester for U-M has reached an all-time high with 9,248 students enrolled.

STEMming from that
For these industries to grow and survive, industry, business and education need to come together to encourage and inspire the young minds of the future workforce. The future of the economy is in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and its learning opportunities. There are many Career Technology Education (CTE) programs and STEM initiatives around the state that are geared toward inspiring young people to pursue career pathways in these skilled trades.

One of the most well-known programs worldwide is For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). The program was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen as a way to inspire students to pursue education and careers in STEM-related industries. The FIRST program has proved successful for more than 25 years. According to the organization’s website, FIRST has seen significant growth in recent years and is now recognized and implemented around the world. Projected numbers for the 2016 season are more than 44,000 teams compiled from over 400,000 students.

Students involved in FIRST are touched in many ways:

• They are twice as likely to major in science or engineering in college.
• Out of all FIRST participants, 41 percent major in the field of engineering.
• Of female students involved with FIRST, 33 percent major in engineering.
• Ultimate impact: 89.6 percent of all FIRST alumni are currently in a STEM field as a student or professional.

Michigan is a national leader in FIRST Robotics teams, with more than 340 registered teams going into the 2016 competition season. The state supports the teams through $2 million in grants as an effort to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and math. Detroit will also welcome teams from around the world in the near future, as one of two hosts for FIRST championship events from 2018 to 2020. Houston is the other host city.

Thoughts for the future
These teams and other STEM programs play a big role in state efforts to lead the nation in building a talented workforce. Michigan is on the forefront of this national initiative to make STEM education a priority, and is on its way to being a national leader in talent development. The future economic prosperity of the state is closely linked with student success in the STEM fields. To succeed, capacity and diversity of the STEM workforce pipeline must be expanded. Michigan’s economy, competitiveness and outlook will be tasked in the coming years to fill the gaps left by retiring baby boomers, but with much involvement from education, industry and government, the future of Michigan will surely improve.

David Darbyshire is the owner and co-founder of DASI Solutions, a reseller of 3D engineering technology. He has a passion for bringing the latest technologies to emerging sectors to create thriving communities. He is actively involved in a number of business and educational communities, including Automation Alley, Jackson Area Manufacturers Association and Michigan Industrial & Technical Education Society.