Quality STEM Curriculum Remains Elusive For The US And Space Economy In Desperate Need


Christopher Allen, COO of Nova Space Inc., and CSO of Allen Interactions. Building the best digital learning experiences for all mankind.

STEM education in the U.S. looks to keep the nation globally competitive both in terms of economic opportunity and national security. Yet for all the emphasis on introducing STEM curriculum earlier and in more communities, STEM students aren’t pursuing careers at rates needed for sustained growth in space and other high-tech industries. Within the past decade, data has shown that 74% of college graduates with STEM degrees choose non-STEM jobs.

With only 16% of high school graduates interested in pursuing a STEM-related career at graduation, STEM isn’t just unsexy, it’s not the compelling future young students aspire to.

Even with skills development, being able is not the same as being willing. Nor is willingness an indication of enjoyment and fulfillment. How can the tables be turned?

How Business Leaders Can Support

Today’s business leaders are challenged by the scalability, speed and poor conversion rates of STEM students to STEM careers and need to turn to alternative solutions:

• Teaming with technical colleges for specialized internship programs.

• Using pre-hire, paid training programs to incentivize changing careers.

• Hiring future employees who only match 50% to 80% of the skills required and providing intensive internal training programs.

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• Partnering with local workforce development offices for future training planning and grants.

For learning to be effective, it needs to be motivational in a way that directly connects students to possible outcomes they can imagine for themselves. “Trust me, you’ll need this later,” doesn’t cut it. What about right now? What can STEM skills do for me today? Business leaders in tech fields and beyond have an opportunity to help reach people earlier and influence the industry.

Current Issues

As educators struggle to provide personal career-based examples in class, this results in lower scores and lower connection with STEM. A 2015 Pew Research study interpreted the results of how Americans rate their own STEM education as “middling.” The assessment is seen in the lack of encouragement and support to continue studying STEM after high school and before entering the workforce. U.S. colleges and universities have long experienced a decline in U.S. citizen enrollment in STEM majors, with foreign enrollments increasing year over year.

America can do better. K-12 and higher ed both need new long-term solutions to produce more motivated, skilled graduates willing to continue in their respective fields. While traditional education works to catch up with the growing gap in talent development, industries such as space need talent today. With the vast expansion in private space operations, organizations are trapped in a cycle of poaching experienced talent from competitors and suppliers.

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There simply are not enough qualified space professionals with working knowledge of general space operations, current industry challenges and best practices to fill the thousands upon thousands of open roles at such household name brands like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Boeing.

Given how popular space exploration is with the American public, it’s surprising to discover how limited the talent pool is for its high-paying jobs. It’s time to find practical ways to recruit and convert talent from other industries to supply space with confident and competent people without solely relying on higher ed to develop candidates.

From technicians to business development to corporate leadership, space needs to onboard new talent from other industries through workforce development programs that provide useful skills in weeks and months, not years. But access to training won’t be enough.

Challenges In Perception

Americans continue to hold the belief that STEM is too hard. To overcome the challenge of perception, organizations need to engage and recruit with techniques that change beliefs and install confidence. Experiences like online games that entertainingly challenge and fascinate adults while imparting a small dose of education can promotion and lure people with the aptitude to take a second look at careers previously thought to be out of reach.

Transformative business leaders have an opportunity in this current environment to start tracking and scoring skills as their core competitive advantage. IBM, Amazon and EY use digital credentialing, via their own internal training programs, so that employees can continue educational activities and build a rich, up-to-date database of skills. Scouring a skills database for trends in newly acquired capabilities gives leaders key abilities. Businesses should look to:

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1. Make investments in training programs to replenish key skills lost through attrition.

2. Recruit external talent aligned to new verified skills rather than prior job experience.

3. Pivot faster to new business models when staff gain critical skills.

Starting Young

For students and families, it’s also time to start demanding early practical application of STEM concepts connected to home life and hobbies. In many communities, STEM careers have never been a local option. Space, for example, has long been thought to be restricted to coastal locations. To overcome geographical and racial barriers and expand future talent pools across the majority of America, both parents and children need effective support and encouragement. Topics covered in the classroom need reinforcement from at-home activities families can work through together. From beginning education to our role as business leaders, we can create a holistic support system so that STEM has a better chance of connecting, sticking and turning into a career.


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