Technology Training: The STEM Crisis
December 2, 2013 by Bill Rosenthal

Microsoft’s Allyson Knox testified before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade this month. Knox is Microsoft’s Education Policy and Programs Director. Microsoft sees a serious STEM skills shortage creating a drag on our economy, and it has deployed Knox to set up educational programs and partnerships to do something about it. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Knox is focused primarily on education, but her remarks to the Subcommittee should interest anyone involved in information technology training because the mismatch between what our economy needs and what the labor market is supplying has reached a crisis.

“In 2011, only 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates were prepared for college-level math, and only 30 percent were prepared for college-level science,” she said. “More recently, last week’s results of the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that despite positive trends, only 36 percent of our 8th graders are proficient or advanced in mathematics.” If you’re wondering why your company is having trouble filling technical vacancies or why some employees find IT training to be difficult, that might help to explain it.

You can find an account of her testimony on Microsoft’s blog, Microsoft on the Issues, and you can find a transcript (PDF) of her testimony on the House documents website. It’s a chilling look at the future of IT training.

Logical Operations provides excellent instructor-led programs in IT training, but the need far outstrips the capacity of corporate training programs.

I have never been particularly political in this blog, but this issue has a political focus, and it deserves your attention. In the U.S. since 2005, the number of introductory computer science courses offered in secondary schools has declined by 17 percent. The number of advanced placement computer science courses has declined by 33 percent. So, not only do we have a shortage in the labor market, but we reducing our capacity for alleviating it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of computing job openings in this country that require at least a bachelor’s degree will average over 120,000 per year until the end of this decade. The number of people getting bachelor’s degrees in computer science is averaging just over 50,000 per year. This puts considerable pressure on the IT training industry. Maybe you are already feeling some of that pressure.

I suppose there’s a way in which we in the training industry could look at the STEM crisis as job security, but that would be short-sighted. According to Change the Equation, a nonprofit set up to take on this issue, nearly all of the 30 fastest growing occupations in the U.S. require STEM background. Education is largely controlled at the state and local levels in the U.S. We need to at least double the schools’ capacity for STEM education, and that means stepping up at the state and local level to provide schools with the resources to do that. Microsoft is doing good work with its partnerships, but partnerships won’t be enough. This is not the time to be starving our schools. Look at the capacity for STEM education in your neighborhood. If, as seems likely, it’s not enough, advocate increasing it. Get involved.