How to Foster the Next Innovation Revolution
How do you prepare young people for jobs that we haven’t even created yet?
It’s a question that has likely been asked since the dawn of public education, and traditionally, the answer has been simply to create students who are as well-rounded as possible. While this is still a worthy ideal, we have information at our disposal today to help narrow the focus quite a bit.
According to the report Help Wanted: A Projection of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018 by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, we know that approximately two-thirds of all job openings will require some kind of education (e.g. certificate program, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and beyond) after high school.
The same report concludes that nearly 15% of all job openings will be directly in science, technology, engineering, and math related fields (including healthcare) and many more occupations will have strong science and math components to them within the manufacturing and information technology industries. Beyond these projections, we can look to our nation’s past and clearly see where the areas of growth will be.
American innovations have been shaping the future and its workforce for more than a century. Eli Whitney’s cotton gin forever changed the face of agriculture. Henry Ford’s Model T instantly birthed an entire industry and still shapes the fortunes of entire cities and states. Without H. Edward Roberts’ creation of the personal computer has set us on a new frontier that is still being explored more than 35 years later. In each of these cases—along with countless others—it has been the brilliance and ingenuity of Americans that has truly driven our nation towards prosperity.
It is in this way that we can forge economic prosperity for ourselves and for future generations. Innovations such as these, however, do not simply spring from the ground. They are raised, cultivated, and nurtured in our children through our schools and classrooms. Particularly in this modern era, tomorrow’s innovations will almost certainly be built upon a foundation of a strong science, technology, engineering, and math education system.
Certainly, not everyone can be the next Mark Zuckerberg, and not all of us are going to be engineers or biochemists. Some take this truism to mean that not everyone needs a science and math education. This is a dangerous misconception. While students don’t necessarily need to learn calculus to pursue their career goals, jobs that do not require the sort of reasoning and logic skills that are acquired through studying math are nearing extinction. Similarly, though not every child is dreaming of being a chemist, most everyone can benefit from the critical thinking and problem solving that accompanies the learning of the scientific method.
These are skills that are increasingly in demand, especially with manufacturing and technician jobs becoming more and more high-tech. The days of assembly line jobs are quickly giving way to those requiring the ability to diagnose problems with complex machinery and computers.
The business community has been making STEM education a priority. Business leaders frequently serve as guest speakers, as tutors or as mentors for students, as advisors to principals and administrators, and as professional developers for teachers. Entrepreneurs like Dean Kaman, inventor of the Segway, support competitions like FIRST Robotics, which provides high school students with opportunities to create a robot that can operate autonomously under varying circumstances.
Better still, these kinds of activities bring the wonder of learning back to education that so often gets lost in mountains of textbooks and exams. If we are going to inspire a new generation of innovators—who are already the most technology-hungry group of children the world has ever seen—it’s not going to be done by shoving their noses into a dull textbook that’s seen few major changes since the 1970s.
Contrary to how people label themselves as being (or not being) a “math person” or a “techie”, passion for these subjects is not a genetic trait. If we are to truly foster the next innovation revolution, parents, teachers, school administrators, politicians, and business leaders must come together to make STEM education a priority.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cheryl Oldham is vice president of the USCCF's Center for Education and Workforce.