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Is STEM Taking Root?

Written by Kayla Savale, Marketing Coordinator

FIRST Robotics

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 trade’s gap of the future workforce is growing more inevitable.

Recently, a survey was conducted by the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives that 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 why and how substantial 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 of the skilled trade’s 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 of 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 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and its learning opportunities. There are many CTE (Career Technology Education) programs as well as 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 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen. Being an inventor and advocate of the industry himself, Kamen sought out to create a program that would help encourage students to pursue education and careers in STEM-related industries. Being the first of its kind, the FIRST program has proven successful for over 25 years and has become universally recognized around the world.

According to the organization’s official website, FIRST has seen significant growth in recent years and is now recognized and executed globally around the world. Projected numbers for the 2016 season are over 44,000 teams compiled from over 400,000 students.

Through the vast investment that comes from everyone involved with these teams, the impact that is created within these children far surpasses the effort that goes in! Students involved in FIRST are touched in more way than one; the evidence is clear.

  • Students involved in FIRST are twice as likely to major in science or engineering
  • 41% of all FIRST participants actually major in the field of engineering
  • Of all the female students involved with FIRST, 33% of them major in engineering

ULTIMATE IMPACT: 89.6% of all FIRST Alumni are currently in a STEM field as a student or professional.

Michigan, already being a national leader in FIRST Robotics teams, has over 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 in teams from around the world in the near future, being one of two hosts for FIRST championship events from 2018 to 2020.

Check out this video to learn more about FIRST Robotics.

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 this great state is closely linked with student success in the STEM fields. We must expand the capacity and diversity of the STEM workforce pipeline. Michigan’s economy, competitiveness and outlook will be tasked in the coming years to fill the gaps left by the retiring baby boomers, but with much involvement from education, industry and government, the future of Michigan will surely improve.

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