Good comments, Thom. There seems to be a disconnect between young people's love of technology products and their interest in participating in that technology as a career. The programming merit badge for Boy Scouts is a tiny move toward connecting tech products with tech activity. Additional programs that make the connection between the tech products kids love and the education to participate in developing those products need to be created.
Giving students Autodesk products will teach them how to use Autodesk products. It will not assist them (much) in learning mechanics of materials, or even that drilling a 1/4" diameter hole (sorry, 6.35 mm hole) through 300mm of steel is a non-trivial exercise.
Autodesk products will make portions of STEM education more fun, easier, etc. They will not eliminate the need for a solid grounding in physics, mechanics, materials, etc.
.... or companies could just pay for STEM jobs. What else would draw students into the field? Cool tech doesn't pay the iphone bill any more than banking or flipping houses. Why bother learning all those equations? A person who has the skills and the discipline to be a good engineer knows that they can make a lot more money doing something else (and usually does).
That's a point. I've heard a lot of "duelling statistics" that claim to prove that the "STEM Crisis" is real, or that it's a myth. A lot of the "myth" crowd argue that the *real* crisis is pay rates for qualified STEM workers, and that the STEM shortfall is a myth promulgated by employers who want more H1B visas issued so they can get STEM talent at lower pay rates. At this point, finding a clear, unbiased opinion on the issue is almost as hard as finding an unbiased set of statistics on global warming -- I don't know who to believe.
STEM is a made up term to satisfy peoples' feelings that continue to experiment with our children's education. And although anecdotal, I have been an engineer for 30 years, and have yet to meet my fellow colleague that claims there are open requisitions (except during the telecom boon) waiting for STEM students.
And I would venture a bet that most of us engineers are in our profession because of our admiration of the space program and the computer. The elementary education is and was always there, but putting a man on the moon was new.
What's new today? STEM – LOL you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
Better tools are helpful, but only in the hands of a dedicated artisan. You can't make good product if you don't know the fundamentals of what makes a good product. There is no substitute for learning the fundamentals at the earliest possible opportunity and building consistently on these fundamentals throughout one's school and working life. We all love technology, but to be a builder instead of just another user, it takes a lot more.
And it happens to be in our neck of the woods. I will be showing it to our fifteen year old son this evening. I called the company and they are willing to do teenager/adult classes - I am thinking this would be a lot of fun for the whole family and may just re-energize our son's flagging interest in learning how technology works.
On the other side of the Atlantic we also suffer from this, engineering is associated with 'blue collar' dirty hands on work. Being a school govenor, attached to the science dept. and working in scientific research for a living I can understand why so many don't want to do STEM subjects, it's hard work and the end results really don't pay very well compared with middle (mis) management and 'clean hands'...
Neil certainly has a good point about a couple of things. The media certainly does not seem to respect engineeringvery much, or even understand just what it is. Of course a lot of others don't understand it either. Besides that, and unfortunately, engineering does not seem to pay that very well, especially compared to so many other professions that provide no benefit to society or anybody else. And that is a pity.
Not everyone is cut out for STEM, ie, college. I don't see the 57% as a bad merit factor. That leaves 43% still interested in STEM. The more relevant question is if the number interested in STEM careers equals or is greater than the number of jobs available in STEM?
I see this misconceived notion more and more in all of our society that everyone must go to college. That just does not match our human nature.
I do not believe that students need new stuff to get interested in STEM. In fact I think there is some very old stuff that can provide more inspiration than any CAD package. I am often surprised at the interest that ancient siege machines generate in today's youth for example. The physics and problem solving involved in a Trebuchet is impressive.
I do think that students need to have access to tools but good old fashioned basic tools will serve the purpose just as well. I would love to see a return of metal and wood shops to schools for example.
Most important though is role models, examples, and mentors. Kids need farming. We need farmers to plant the seeds and inspiration, pull the weeds to improve chances of success, and provide water to help the spirit grow. It is probably not entirely coincidental that many of today's engineering schools started out as agricultural schools.
Dean Kamen saw the problem over 20 years ago and did something constructive as a solution. He started FIRST.
There is a long history of students getting involved and becoming wildly enthusiastic about STEM by creating teams to build a robot in 6 weeks. There are incredible accomplishments and successful careers that have been launched by the experience of FIRST.
I have had the privilege of being a Judge and Judge Advisor for 8 years in this annual event which reaches thousands of students from age 6 through 18 typically.
Please check out the link above. FIRST is growing. The Championship is held in St.Louis in April and fills the Edwards Dome for 4 days. It is exciting, energetic and inspirational.
The FIRST program is indeed a very excellent program that introduces young folks to engineering in an interesting manner and gathers a lot of good attention for engineering. BUT not that big of a percentage of students are involved in FIRST. So while it does a good job for some, the majority probably never even hear about it. And those others also need some education in science, at least an understanding of some of what we use daily, in order to not be "just plain ignorant." Some exposure to at least some of the rules of physics and kinematics is needed for things like driving safely and being able to do many activities, like mowing the lawn, safely.
Unfortunately a large portion of our population is simply not able to focus their attention long enough to even listen to lessons on these topics. Thatis one root of the problem, and lack of ability to focus is probably one of the real challenges that we have today. I believe that it is something new, and I am not certain about how to solve that problem.
The problem is multi-faceted; not all students are suited for STEM, but interests can be inspired incrementally and time phased.
Educational and vocational programs must begin early and continue through to adulthood.
Technical programs at the elementary, middle, high school levels must be in sync with the innovative developments of creative industries.
Unfortunately, most of the educational institutions (both primary and secondary) do not concentrate on STEM programs. Most institutions focus on careers where the current job openings seem to have highest demand. Unfortunately, service related jobs seem to be more important to society today.
Check the "smart Van" blog/website and it will become clear that well qualified service people are indeed in great demand currently, and probably will remain in demand even if the economy collapses, since then replacing things will be much less of an option.
And right now the severe engineer shortage is really a shortage of engineers that will work for lower pay under poor conditions. Good engineers that would work in reasonable conditions for a competitive income are available in adequate quantities.
I have ben a contract engineer at a few jobs and in most cases the contract cost was about twice what I was paid, which was costing my employer a lot more than what my medical insurance would have cost.
So I would submit that the benefit of hiring contractors is the ability to dump them the moment that they perceive that they are not needed. That is typical MBA thinking, having no understanding that engineering talent and skills are not evenly distributed, and that it is seldom simple for one to step in to replace another without a bit of cost penalty.
The way to solve the engineering shortage is to start regulating the daylights out of the financial manipulator crooks, so that there will be far less of the very high profits for them. Then suddenly an engineering career will be more lucrative looking. And the secondary results could be that we don't have another financial crash that injures the rest of our country while thye dishonest weasels get rich.
Note that this is not an original opinion, but it is one that I agree with completely.
Good points, William K. The eagle eye to the quarterly return has worked against true business health for decades now. Oddly, the CEO is in the same bind. If the CEO doesn't slave to the quarterly return, the company will find a CEO who will.
Rob, you are certainly correct. And the very worst of it all is that the boards are so very short sighted. Unfortunately, in a free country such as ours there is not a lot that can be done about it. In China they routinely solve business problems with hangings, at least that is what I read in their paper when I was there a while back. Drastic, but certainly effective against repeaters.
I don't think we need to go down the road of China, William K, though it may be tempting sometimes. Some public companies have done all right if the major owner has control (like Facebook) and decisions can be made from the point of view of long-term business health rather than quarterly returns.
I am from down under (Australia) I take in interns for industry training and we have the same problem they are due to.
High schools in general have stopped metal and wood work classes therefore
That students do not the names of hand tools or hoe to use them.
Technical collages charge fees for courses and do not give enough time for lab work.
Universities do not give enough time to hands on (lab) experence.
The students are not given enough advice their ability to do the course. It is a requirement for students to go to year 12 even if the are going garbage collectors, street sweepers, labours we are ending up with a lot a educated unskilled people, GO BACK TO BASIC'S
I certainly agree with most of the comments made so far. At one time in my career I was an engineering program manager with an international group providing contract services to South America, the Middle East and Western Europe. I was absolutely amazed at the difference in attitude shown by managerial personnel in these areas relative to the attitudes shown by management in the USA. In the "states" we are basically considered the means to an end--pawns if you will until the need for our services is gone. It was an absolute pleasure working for a qualified engineering manager as opposed to an MBA. The level of understanding was ten-fold in comparison. I think these attitudes become known at a very early level in the educational process and this is one reason more students do not consider the STEM professions. Now, these remarks are not meant to be condemning and I have worked for several terrific managers over my 50 plus years as an engineer BUT working for an individual that is schedule and cost driven is not that much fun.
Very informative and thought provoking post indeed! However I could not understand the connection between the two figures related to the growth of STEM related professions and rate of students losing interest in STEM related professions. Healthy projected increase of 20.6 % in STEM related professions, but at the same time 57 % students losing interest in STEM, indicate that this decline in interest in STEM related profession is not job market driven.
It is perplexing for me that "Digitally Savvy Youth" are losing interest in STEM related careers. There must be some research conducted to go beyond just knowing the rate of students losing interest and inquiring the reasons behind this phenomenon so that this problem that could hurt the country's economy badly can be coped with.
California State University, Chico was the first school in California to offer an ABET-accredited degree program in mechatronic engineering. Now its California Mechatronics Center works with industry on machinery, robotics, and surveillance vehicles.
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