Several times in recent years this column has discussed the continued need for a technically skilled workforce, including matters such as improved teacher training, the benefits of mentoring or recognizing the successes of friends who came to America with only the willingness to work and succeed.

    As mentioned here last month, oil and gas energy sectors confronted the issue of obtaining qualified employees, which was their primary problem to overcome. The topic is often called “STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education” and is examined below. 

    Only 31% of college degrees awarded in 2009 were remotely related to S&E (science and engineering) and only one in 10 pursued such a degree beyond the bachelor level. It is estimated* that 74% of the American S&E workforce has additional education versus 23% of non-S&E employees. It is notable that only 4.3% of STEM graduates stay the path into and through the workplace. The median annual earnings for all U.S. employees was $33,840 in 2010, but it was $75,820 for S&E. Perhaps most disturbing is that between 2008 and 2018, total U.S. employment should grow by 10.1%. S&E employment, however, will increase by 20.6%, with 80% of all jobs requiring some STEM skills. But general STEM literacy scores from around the world rank the U.S. in the middle of the pack with a 502 score. Higher-scoring nations include Finland (554), Japan (539), Canada (529), Germany (520) and England (514). Lower achievers include Italy (489), Greece (470), Turkey (454) and Mexico (416). 

    Two years ago, 45% of high-school graduates were ready for college-level math and 30% were ready for college-level science. Only 27% of college applicants bothered to take, much less pass, advanced-placement tests for science (26% for math). Only 38% of college students who started a STEM curriculum finished it and graduated. America led the world in high school and college graduation rates 25 years ago, but our nation has dropped to 20th and 16th place, respectively.

    Why does this poor student performance exist and get worse? In large part, the teachers in American elementary and secondary schools are the problem. Only one-third of science teachers in public schools took post-secondary education in the subjects they are certified to teach. Fully 36% of high-school certified math teachers are not qualified to teach it via any education or experience.

    The trend established and maintained by poor STEM preparatory teaching is an obvious problem, and it is projected to get worse. It is forecast that 63% of all U.S. jobs will require post-secondary education by 2018, up from 28% in 1973, and that 92% of traditional STEM jobs will require college education plus job training. At the current rate of failing performance, America will have a shortfall of 3 million qualified workers in critical STEM employment in just six more years.

    In addition to teacher inadequacies, societal culture does not command performance in these more difficult pursuits. It fails to remind young people that degree of difficulty in school work is related to future success and achievement. Part of recognizing this situation is that there are 3.6 unemployed workers in the U.S. for every job opening. It is never reported to the public that competence with appropriate skill sets is lacking, and that devastating situation is not headed in the right direction for correction.

    Industrial Heating readers might consider addressing these issues on common grounds for the sake of both the thermal-processing industry and the nation itself. There are existing associations that could and should bring attention to these issues and assist in solving them – matters that will only get worse over time and for which common industrial solutions are needed.

    I suggest that industry managers discuss this situation and forge a plan of action to assist in solving this looming crisis. It is a national issue. Readers must have every confidence that the staff of this journal will assist in any way possible to help solve the problem.

    Remember the admonition by Benjamin Franklin to his fellow founders: “We’ll all hang together or we’ll all hang separately.” IH    


* Sources include National Center for Education Statistics, National Science Foundation, Bureau of Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics