Working and Learning Can Make a Big Difference in Career Development

April 5, 2016


The Siemens Foundation believes that STEM education is a crucial discipline for students entering the workforce.

At the Siemens Foundation, we are all about STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM is not just something to study, it’s a disciplined approach to opportunities and problems. And it’s increasingly the common language of the changing economy and world in which we live. Jobs in STEM fields are projected to grow at almost double the rate of non-STEM occupations. That’s good news for folks entering the workforce and for thriving industries like manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, and energy.

But here’s the challenge. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and even interested in STEM. And according to a recent survey from the Business Roundtable, 28 percent of CEOs say at least half of their new entry hires lack basic STEM literacy. Long story short, there is a huge gap between these STEM jobs and the number of applicants with the right skills at the right time to fill them.

To solve the problem, we must continue to encourage more people to see the value in learning STEM in the classroom. But we have to do more. This includes doubling down on an often overlooked but effective approach—work-based learning. 

While classroom learning builds a strong foundation for future success, work-based learning helps students test and develop their knowledge in an applied setting and gain the employability skills that will serve them for life.

Jermaine Gaddis – one of the Siemens Technical Scholars selected by the Aspen Institute – is a great example.

Jermaine is driven to succeed—for himself, for his family, and for his community. As his mother says in the profile of Jermaine below, Santa Fe College’s Cardiovascular Technology program seems like “his purpose.”

You can tell, though, that Jermaine’s passion is not only derived from his success in the classroom, but from his in-hospital training. His work-based learning experiences focused his interests and reaffirmed his belief that cardiac health will lead him to a fulfilling career.

Employers appreciate this, too.

Matthew Allen, of Gainesville’s UF Health Shands Hospital noted, “You’ve seen them blossom from new students – through their rotations, through their internships – so you have a really good idea of what you’re going to get as an employer.”

These are some of the reasons we’ve made work-based learning a cornerstone of our new workforce development program, the STEM Middle-Skill Initiative. We’re partnering with the National Governors Association’s Center on Best Practices to scale work-based learning models in six states—Indiana, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, and Washington—for young adults either in school or who are looking for a fresh start when it comes to work and education. We’re also partnering with NGA in their efforts to support the 46 winners of the American Apprenticeship Initiative, a historic investment by the federal government in expanding apprenticeships, the gold standard of work-based learning, in the U.S. 

Meanwhile, our Siemens Technical Scholars project, which we’re working on with the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, profiles high-performing two-year STEM programs and students. Many of these students, like Jermaine, are required to participate in work-based learning in their programs.

Together, we’re proving that classroom and work-based learning can be one of the most effective forms of career development, not to mention a pathway to the jobs of the future.

At some of today’s top community colleges, 93 percent of STEM program grads—many of whom participated in work-based learning—were hired within six months. They entered into careers paying an average of $53,000 annually.

And as Jermaine points, it really is only the beginning. “I know there’s going to be more opportunities out there” in the future, he says.


David Etzwiler is the CEO of the Siemens Foundation.