Seattle, Washington February 3, 2012
You may be wondering what the owner of a small, Minnesota-based, woman-owned machine parts company has in common with the Administrator of the world’s premier space exploration agency. The answer was made clear this week when the Business Higher Education Forum and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness – of which Darlene is a member — joined forces here in Seattle to tackle an aspect of the jobs crisis that is too often overlooked. Darlene and I head up high tech entities in danger of having jobs but not enough qualified workers to fill them.
While it is good news that over the past 22 months our economy has added more than 3.2 million jobs, the sad fact is that more than half-a-million manufacturing jobs are unfilled right now simply because companies can’t find the talent to do the work. All of this is occurring in a world where emerging economies are sprinting ahead and education has become the fault line between success and failure. Clearly, this is an American crisis, but it is one we can solve.
President Obama has made this a priority and he charged his Jobs Council with creating stronger alignments between the educational objectives of institutions of higher learning and the businesses that need highly educated workers to fill jobs and bolster American competitiveness. The Council has responded with efforts like its “10K Engineers” initiative which is mobilizing business leaders to train 10,000 American engineers a year through internships and training. In his State of the Union “blueprint for an economy built to last,” the President proposed more partnerships between high tech companies and community colleges to train 2 million Americans for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
The centerpiece of all our efforts to beat back this crisis is the engagement of more elementary, secondary and college students in science, technology, engineering and math – or the STEM disciplines. These are the skills that are in high demand today. And these are the skills that will lead to high paying jobs, whether or not a young person decides to pursue a 4-year degree.
At NASA, our needs for workers across aerospace in the coming decades will be great. The space program is soaring to new heights with new destinations on the horizon and new workers needed to advance aviation and space technology. A growing number of small and medium-size private companies are also joining long-time partners like Boeing as the commercial space industry picks up speed. These companies too will need STEM-educated workers.
That is why NASA places such a big emphasis on education. In FY 2011 alone, NASA’s K-12 education projects reached more than one million students through STEM initiatives. More than 4,000 additional college students benefited from the agency’s higher education projects through internships and fellowship opportunities. Right here in Seattle, since 1989, NASA has supported the Washington Space Grant Consortium, which is dedicated to enhancing higher education opportunities for students seeking to pursue careers in the STEM fields, thereby strengthening NASA’s and the nation’s future workforce.
But STEM studies are going to be advantageous for students at any level, even if they don’t attend a 4-year college. We know that one-size educational programs do not fit all. The Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce forecasts that over half of all jobs created that will require post-secondary education of some type will be filled by people with associates degrees or occupational certificates. Small companies like Permac need those kinds of workers.
That is why Darlene created a pilot program called Right Skills Now, a partnership between manufacturers, manufacturing associations, American College Testing (ACT) and local schools to provide math qualified candidates with fast-tracked career training and stackable college credits to use as they pursue an associate’s degree or further education. Right Skills Now currently has two schools in Minnesota, Dunwoody College of Technology and South Central Community College, teaching 16 week programs that will result in credentialed computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine operators for which there are available jobs.
It is clear; studying STEM will help everyone bolster their chances at getting a good-paying job. That is why the President has made it such a high priority and it is why his Jobs Council joined the Business Higher Education Forum here in Seattle this week to move the ball forward. Both Darlene and I come from working class families and found our way to a better life through STEM education and the values of hard work and fair play. We want to make sure more young people get that same chance.
Charles Bolden is Administrator of NASA. Darlene Miller is President and CEO of Permac Industries and a member of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.