I recently had the opportunity to join 200 education, nonprofit, and industry leaders at the GE Foundation’s summer conference: Bridging the Gap: Success for Tomorrow with STEM Skills Today. The conference focused on the skills gap—the mismatch between the skills required for a healthy economy and the skills of the labor force. In the U.S., the skills gap is most prevalent in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Did you know that 65 percent of today’s students will land in jobs that don’t yet exist? And that nine million new STEM jobs are expected in the next decade?
At the conference, I was impressed to see that employers are taking on a new level of ownership to bridge the gap between current and future job openings and skilled, qualified candidates. Employers can be a great ally to educators in addressing the skills gap, especially when employer-educator partnerships are built on shared values, explicit goals, and actionable follow-through.
Here are three tips for employers—learned at the conference and during my years in the field—about how to shape the most productive employer-educator partnerships.
Learn the language of education to align goals. Educators see themselves as responsible for preparing students for options and choices—not for meeting the hiring needs of employers. That said, all the educators I met at the conference saw STEM as an essential skill set for postsecondary success in a variety of careers, not just traditional STEM careers. So, let’s stop using the outdated “pipeline” metaphor and talk to each other about how best to build STEM career pathways for students of all ages.
Be explicit about skills versus degrees. Employers have long implored educators to better prepare students for the good jobs of the future, but with little information about the specific capabilities they need. At the conference, I was impressed by presentations from Chevron, GE, Opportunity@work, and others that clearly named and described the exact skills—including those elusive soft skills—needed by their workforces of the future. For example, the GE staffing team described the engineer of the future as a person with deep domain expertise who is multidisciplinary, creative, and a systems thinker focused on customers.
Develop resources for frontline teachers. Employers want graduates who can apply academic skills, technical expertise, and soft skills to solve challenges on the job. But to change what happens during the school day, teachers on the frontline of education need more support. Teachers have found that project and problem-based teaching strategies are effective at engaging students and improving their learning. But they cite challenges to implementing those strategies, including a lack of appropriate resources and training. My organization has developed the Spark 101 Interactive STEM Videos to give teachers real-world resources for project- and problem-based learning. Employers provide the real scenarios for career-based problem-solving in the classroom. Teachers need more real-world problems and projects from employers to support this learning approach and make the curriculum more relevant for students.
Collaborations between employers and educators are key to bridging this gap—helping students find the jobs they love and helping employers attract skilled team members.