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Running out of STEAM?

Skating on thin ice
Skating on thin ice
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Our nation’s workforce is at a competitive crossroads. Some argue that we’re doing fine, we don’t need more college graduates, and the labor market is humming like a summer beehive. In fact, some make the point that we are up to our veritable necks in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-ready workers and we don’t need to train or produce any more STEM graduates. The problem I have with that line of thinking is based on this cold hard fact: the U.S. is falling farther behind in foundational skill sets like reading and writing and basic computation (see the TIMSS scores). Therefore, I find it hard to believe that the decline of factors that enable economic development (mastery of the three Rs – reading, writing, and arithmetic) places us in a position to suggest we have a surplus of highly skilled labor. Being able to manipulate the keys on a computer or smartphone doesn’t make us tech-smart, it just demonstrates our never ending fascination to own the newest, shiny thing. What sets a nation apart isn’t how many techno junkies are spawned, but how many creators, inventors, and scientists are shaped, molded, and made into the kinds of leaders that move our country into the next generation of new technology. I attended a meeting in Washington this week that was as exhilarating as it was discouraging. There were policymakers from industry, academe, and the Federal government that presented new evidence that only hardens my thinking that we absolutely, positively must do more than assign blame and pass the buck. If we don’t, we stand a very good chance of floating away on the same melting icecap that the anti-science establishment folks ten years ago said would last another hundred. One suggestion I have is to make quality education mean something. It is still too early in the game to throw in the towel because we don’t like how we rate in the TIMSS ranking. We have talent like no other country on the planet! Our goal is to provide these minds with the education, retraining, and tools they need and stop worrying about if they are male or female, over sixty, black, brown, white, or indigo! As long as they are willing, able, and ready to be part of the solution to make our nation more productive and successful, we use them! And, as for running out of STEAM (some people like to add an “A” for Art or Agriculture) - I don’t know about you, but I say (even as I wave from that floating ice cap) that we can never add enough letters to success. We're already skating on thin ice. Can we afford to wait?