It has been widely reported that there’s a growing gap between supply and demand for employees with skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Here at SAP, we certainly recognize the need to ensure a robust stream of entry-level employees with a strong business and technology acumen.
There are a variety of reasons for the increasing disparity, one of which is simply that there are more positions that require STEM skills. But I think the bigger problem is that, especially in North America, not enough young people are pursuing STEM careers. And it’s primarily because we haven’t made STEM sexy.
That has to change. And if we’re going to realize that change, organizations can’t sit back and expect government to solve the problem. Yes, government has a significant role to play in public education policy and funding. But to make STEM careers attractive to today’s students and tomorrow’s employees, corporations will have to get involved.
In the United States, employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow nearly two times faster than the average for all occupations over the next four years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. During that time, tech companies alone will need to fill 430,000 STEM jobs. By 2018, the United States will have 1.2 million openings in STEM jobs. But we’re not graduating nearly that many kids with STEM degrees.
What’s interesting is that many middle-school students participate in STEM programs. But by the time they get to high school, their interest in STEM topics drops off significantly.
Like some other leading tech companies, SAP has long had education programs focused at the college level. But we’ve realized we’re losing kids before they get to college. We need to focus our energies at the high-school level to ensure students are prepared for STEM programs in college and then in their careers.
Be Cool, B-TECH
To that end, in August SAP announced that it will guide the creation and development of a six-year high school in Queens, N.Y. Informally called the Business Technology Early College High School, or B-TECH, the school will offer a technology-focused curriculum. Students will come out of the school with a high-school diploma issued by the State of New York, a degree from Queensborough Community College and be highly competitive for a job in the technology industry.
Students will essentially follow a traditional high-school curriculum, but they’ll also choose from technology-focused tracks. In addition, the school days will be longer, with academic labs to close any gaps in literacy or numeracy. There will also be a focus on business acumen to help students learn things like presentation and problem-solving skills. In their last two years of school, students will take college-level courses taught by college professors.
SAP will be closely involved in the planning and development of the school and its students. Every student will have an SAP mentor to help ensure they stay focused on their education, and to help them understand what kinds of careers are available in IT. Students will also have opportunities to work with SAP technologies such as SAP HANA and SAP Mobile Apps. And we hope to develop opportunities for internships or work-study programs.
Driven to Succeed
Companies such as IBM and Microsoft are exploring or have already launched similar models. But more organizations will have to get involved, and not only tech companies. Any company in a STEM field that hopes to have a rich talent pool to choose from
has an interest in attracting kids to STEM curriculums and ensuring they remain engaged.
And engaging high-school students will require a real commitment, because kids at that age can easily become sidetracked. They need to recognize that this is about not just their education but also their lifelong careers and wellbeing. And they need to be informed about all the opportunities available to them if they remain focused on their futures.
Ultimately, it requires all stakeholders to tell students, We care about you. It can’t just be their teacher. It can’t only be their principal. It needs to include the corporate sponsor, the company mentors, the college professors, all parties demonstrating to students that they believe in them and care about their futures.
I’ve seen this work firsthand. I recently had the opportunity to visit IBM’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn. While I was there, I spoke with students about their experiences.
One girl told me that her friends laugh at her because she spends extra time in school every day, and she has extra homework for her technology curriculum. But she said to me, “I know I’m going to get the last laugh. Because I’m going to finish school with a college degree and a good job waiting for me.”
I also spoke to a boy who told me he never took learning seriously before. But now that he’s at a technology-focused high school, he’s focused and motivated. He knows he’s acquiring valuable skills. He has a mentor to guide and encourage him. He’s the first person in his family to be on this kind of career path, and he’s proud of that. As a consequence, he’s driven to succeed.
And I have every confidence that he will.