Is STEM Vital to Filling Manufacturing Jobs?

July 30, 2014
Center for Education and Workforce

Recently, the U.S. Chamber Foundation's Jason Tyszko was asked by the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) to explain how manufacturers can cooperate to build an effective talent pipeline to ease the hiring challenges faced nationwide. With hundreds of thousands of industry positions unfilled despite an elevated unemployment rate, a new model is needed to power the manufacturing sector of the future.

In this interview, he describes the barriers to a better workforce and how a talent pipeline approach can provide collective benefits for the industry.

What aspects of the push for STEM skills and a trained workforce deserve more attention?

The emphasis on STEM skills is the right one, but the problem arises in our management of a STEM talent pipeline. At the high school level, most students are disinterested in STEM fields and many of those who are interested lack the basic math and reading skills to pursue these career pathways. When considering underrepresented populations, the disparity in STEM interest and ability to access programs is even greater.

Attrition rates are high for those students who do enter a postsecondary STEM program. For those few who do complete, only half transition into employment in a STEM field. Getting students engaged in STEM education early and helping students persist is a major challenge—and opportunity—if we are to close the skills gap.

How can manufacturing take advantage of the workforce potential represented by the half of STEM graduates not shifting into related careers?

Students’ decisions to pursue non-STEM careers is not because of a lack of opportunity in STEM fields, but can be better explained by understanding the demand among employers for STEM skills. Skills that are predominantly found in those programs—such as the ability to think critically, manage projects, and solve problems—are in high demand in almost every industry.

For manufacturing, the solution to gaining access to these recruits is multifold. First, students need exposure to the changing nature of manufacturing and career opportunities at an earlier age. Second, STEM-related skills need to be extended across all disciplines to increase the pool of talent. Lastly, manufacturers would be well served by working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) to adopt talent pipeline management practices that build highly effective, demand-driven partnerships with education and workforce programs serving as preferred provider networks.

What are some major barriers keeping high school or college graduates from being workforce ready?

In addition to helping improve employer-led partnerships to close the skills gap, USCCF is also interested in promoting college and career readiness. One of the barriers we face is low and inconsistent academic standards. Many states have placed their proficiency levels for math and reading at such a low level that students may be proficient in one state but woefully unprepared by another state’s standards. This has led to increasingly high remediation rates for college students and a lack of basic reading and math skills to be considered workforce ready.

For these reasons and more, USCCF has worked with its federation members to support the adoption and implementation of college- and career-ready standards, such as the Common Core State Standards, to improve college and career readiness for all youth.

What advice would you give to a young adult to encourage him or her to major in a STEM discipline?

Students who graduate in a STEM field are more likely than their peers to be employed. This is due in large part to increasing demand for STEM skills among growing industries. For those students and families who are concerned about obtaining an education that affords them economic opportunity, high wages, and mobility, STEM degrees are highly attractive.

What is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s new talent pipeline management strategy and why do you think manufacturing companies have yet to translate concepts from supply chain management into workforce solutions?

USCCF is uniquely qualified to take employer collective impact strategies to the next level. Our nation’s education and workforce systems are failing to keep pace with our economy and employers throughout the U.S. are struggling to find skilled workers who can contribute to their growth. In manufacturing alone, more than 600,000 jobs are currently unfilled. Previous reforms have focused on improving the delivery of our education and workforce programs, but through talent pipeline management USCCF is presenting a new model for collaboration that is demand-driven and employer-centric.

Leveraging the Chamber’s membership of more than 3 million businesses, USCCF will build a movement among employers that takes lessons learned from supply chain management and apply them to education and workforce partnerships. Employers, including manufacturers, have become increasingly sophisticated at managing high-performing supply chains. When it comes to talent, however, employers are left without the tools, resources, and partnerships critical to effectively manage costs, improve ROI, and drive competitive advantage.

During the fall, USCCF will release a white paper on talent pipeline management followed by a series of regional roundtables in New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Las Vegas. The roundtables will provide a forum to discuss the white paper’s findings and recommendations as well as collect feedback from employers and other stakeholders. Later in the fall, USCCF will host a national conference on talent pipeline management in Washington, D.C.

What does an average day in your role look like?

My role at USCCF is dynamic and multifaceted, offering me many opportunities to impact our portfolio of work that spans early childhood education through adult training. While much of my day is spent developing and communicating USCCF’s position on education and workforce issues, I also have the privilege of working in close partnership with our members on local programs that put ideas into practice. Much more than an advocacy organization, USCCF is action-oriented and empowers its members to be agents of change in their communities.

What makes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation a beneficial ally in the connection between industry and education?

USCCF is ideally positioned to help communicate and advance the interests of the business community in matters related to education and workforce development. From policy advocacy to partnerships with our federation of state and local chambers of commerce, USCCF leads efforts that promote a skilled workforce that will contribute to our economic growth and competitiveness.

What were some lessons learned from your efforts with Illinois Pathways?

During my time in Illinois I was tasked—both in my role in the Office of the Governor and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity—with linking the State of Illinois’ education and workforce efforts with its economic development objectives. What began as an attempt to improve career readiness and business participation in our many programs quickly led to exploring collective impact opportunities where state policy incentivized better collaboration among employers. This culminated in the launch of sector-based STEM Learning Exchanges, which helped employers better communicate their needs as well as organize and target their investments more strategically.

Join Jason Tyszko and other manufacturing colleagues and experts at MAPI's Industry-Education Partnerships Forum, to be held August 21 in Chicago.