Futureproofing: How ExxonMobil is Helping Tackle America’s STEM Workforce Challenges

August 24, 2018

“Futureproofing” features U.S. businesses, big and small, investing in the workforce of tomorrow. Check out more at Forwardontalent.org.

Like many countries around the world, the United States faces a shortage of highly-skilled science and technology workers. In the past decade, employment growth in STEM occupations has markedly outpaced growth in non-STEM occupations, and while there will be an estimated 3.4 million STEM jobs available between 2015 to 2025, only about 1.4 million workers will be qualified to fill them, according to a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.

ExxonMobil is taking this challenge head on – but it’s not doing so alone.

Through strategic partnerships with the National Math and Science Initiative’s (NMSI) College Readiness Program and (by extension) the University of Texas, the energy company has set its sights on expanding our nation’s pipeline of talented STEM (science, technology, education and math) workers – workers who can help carry ExxonMobil and many other innovative American businesses into the decades ahead. Specifically, ExxonMobil’s sponsorship of NMSI focuses on equipping teachers and students with high-impact STEM coursework and lessons.

We spoke with Kerri Briggs—Education Policy Officer, Corporate Citizenship at ExxonMobil—about the company’s commitment to closing the STEM skills gap and its approach to preparing today’s students for the technology-focused jobs of tomorrow. Along the way, she offered up some important tips for how other companies can approach similar challenges. Her advice:

Set a realistic goal first.

Improving math and science education and increasing the STEM pipeline is a big task and it’s hard to know where to begin. NMSI began with a relatively targeted goal of improving student achievement on Advanced Placement exams and has scaled its success to reach more students, expanding its mission to train more STEM teachers and to increase student access to high-quality, rigorous coursework.

Pick the right partners.

Partnering with the UTeach Institute at the University of Texas, NMSI encourages undergraduate math and science majors to become STEM teachers. The UTeach program has expanded to multiple universities and is projected to produce more than 8,400 graduates by 2023, thus building the pipeline of high-quality STEM teachers.

Trust your gut.

It was clear to us that NMSI’s approach to bolstering students’ STEM skills worked and would continue to work. In a decade, NMSI’s College Readiness Program has benefited approximately 50,000 teachers and 1.5 million students, and improved STEM achievement in more than 1,000 schools. After just one year, partner schools see students’ qualifying AP scores increase by an average of 67 percent—an increase more than 10 times the national average.

Understand your target audience.

NMSI’s model has always been rooted in state and local partnerships. Today, state-funded replications of NMSI’s College Readiness Program continue to flourish in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana and Kentucky. Doing this work requires collaboration and a commitment to building a community’s capacity. With each new partnership, each new state and local program we learn and refine what that community needs to thrive.

Originally published on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce publication Free Enterprise.