A New Year, a New Commitment to STEM

We have a responsibility to give young people a strong foundation in these fields as early as possible, so that they can pursue whatever career options are most appealing to them.
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Our world is changing rapidly and the skills needed to be successful in today's job market are not the same as the ones needed a decade -- or even five years -- ago. The professional landscape has changed and continues to change drastically, and so must the way we prepare our young people for it. For example, Change the Equation's research has shown that despite being the first generation of "digital natives," millennials simply aren't savvy in using technology to solve complex problems. And they -- and their employers -- are feeling it. An Association of American Colleges and Universities poll from last year found only 46 percent of four-year college graduates and 37 percent of employers said grads were well prepared to stay current on new technologies. Further, while 56 percent of grads felt they were prepared for working with numbers and statistics, only 28 percent of employers felt similarly.

Skills in technology, in particular, once confined to people with job titles like computer programmer, software developer or network administrator, are now all but ubiquitous across today's economy. Workers need more knowledge and skills than ever before -- in all areas of STEM, not just technology. We have a responsibility to give young people a strong foundation in these fields as early as possible, so that they can pursue whatever career options are most appealing to them.

Skills-based volunteerism is an excellent way for STEM professionals to inspire and engage students in STEM learning. Skills-based volunteerism leverages the skills, talent, experiences, passion and education of STEM professionals and matches them to the learning needs of students. This type of volunteerism can be as simple as classroom visits to teach students about a STEM career, company tours, career fairs, informational interviews or as intensive as internships. Hands on opportunities demonstrated by STEM professionals are particularly meaningful in igniting passion and excitement in young people and exposing them to STEM careers.

We can't just up the ante on skills-based volunteering because it fulfills a company's social responsibility pledge, or because it offers a new way to engage employees. We must increase our commitment to skills-based volunteering in STEM because we know it works. We must find ways to connect a company's good work with inspiring young people to dream of a fulfilling STEM career.

Change the Equation is addressing the STEM literacy gap by helping to connect companies with programs, both in-and out-of-school, which offer robust ways for employees to volunteer.

In the Fall, 13 of our Member Companies committed to a collective 14,000 days of STEM skills-based volunteering in 2016. This pledge will reach more than a hundred thousand young people around the nation this year alone -- giving them just the kind of real-world experiences that can ignite a lifelong love of STEM.

The commitment will play out in many ways -- defining pathways to careers in computer science and engineering, providing resources about STEM careers, virtual mentoring and supporting several STEMworks programs, to name a few. Major companies like Dow Chemical, Intel, Lockheed Martin and 3M have committed to their time, treasure and talent in 2016 to ensure a pipeline of career-ready graduates

Building bridges to business for students well before they get to college not only deepens their STEM knowledge, but those bridges help to lead this next generation of high school students to well-paying and rapidly growing career opportunities. And forging these relationships now gives companies the opportunity to see their future workforce in action, "auditioning" potential employees while those potential employees "audition" the workplace.

As we make our New Year's Resolutions for 2016, we are calling on companies to consider investing more time and talent in mentoring, creating shadow learning opportunities or taking a hands-on approach to getting involved in a STEMworks program. It's going to take all of us -- business leaders, educators, STEM programs -- working together to empower millions of new young people through STEM education and give them the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

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