If you look closely at unemployment statistics you might notice something strange; even with many Americans looking for work, there are a large number of jobs still going unfilled. Many of these jobs have one thing in common, the need for an educational background in science, technology, engineering, and math (commonly referred to as STEM). According to the U.S. Labor Department, the 10 fastest growing occupations (and some of the highest paying) are all STEM careers.

Will we be able to provide American children with enough STEM opportunities and education to meet this growing demand?

Few American Students Pursue STEM

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “The United States has developed as a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers, and innovators. In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn by studying STEM. Yet today, few American students pursue expertise in STEM fields—and we have an inadequate pipeline of teachers skilled in those subjects.”

Consider these statistics, only 16% of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career. Even among those that do go on to pursue a college major in the STEM fields, only half will end up choosing to work in a related career. The U.S. is also falling behind internationally, ranking 29th in math and 22nd in science among industrialized nations.

This is a problem, for both young people and the country. Young people will need STEM skills to apply for those higher-paying, fast-growing positions; and the U.S. needs STEM talent to remain a leader in global innovation and change. These professions will be in charge of solving some of the world’s most complex problems; global warming, curing cancer and other disease, finding solutions to hunger, disappearing habitats and an increasingly interdependent world economy.

Cyber Security And STEM

Another increasing concern for the U.S. that relates to STEM skills is the growing demand for qualified IT personnel that can protect individuals and companies from an increased risk of cyber-attack, security breach, and data theft. Dr. Shane Shook, Chief Knowledge Officer and Global Vice President of Consulting at Cylance, Inc. (the first math-based threat detection and prevention company) said in an article written for Forbes, “It comes back to people, process and technology – technology updates can’t exist if we don’t have the people to create them. Security processes to defend against cyber-attacks…can’t be developed without an educated and innovative workforce that has time to gain experience, and are encouraged to do so, by understanding business requirements.”

President Obama articulated a clear priority for STEM education. Specifically, the President called on the nation to develop, recruit, and retain 100,000 excellent STEM teachers over the next ten years. He has also called on colleges and universities to graduate an additional 1 million students with STEM majors. The President’s STEM campaign leverages mostly private sector funding. This demonstrates the business sector’s recognition of the importance of STEM to our economic future. Companies need a pipeline of STEM talent to remain successful and keep up with the rapid rate of change in the world.

Getting Kids Interested In STEM

Based on the low numbers of students currently seeking degrees and careers in STEM fields, it seems clear that introducing more children to STEM opportunities and getting them excited about math and science is essential to meet increasing demands. This is where parents can get involved. Find ways to engage your kids with projects, classes, field trips, etc. that spark their interest in STEM. Check out Our Picks for Skill Building Toys as a place to start. You can also check out STEM web resources and the books listed below for more ways to help get your child excited about STEM and start building skills they’ll need to thrive in a rapidly changing and technologically advance world.

How do you get kids interested in STEM subjects? Have you tried any STEM projects at home?  Share your comments and ideas in our Education Community.