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The STEM Workforce Challenge: The Role of the Public Workforce System in a National Solution for a Competitive Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce

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[Excerpt] Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields have become increasingly central to U.S. economic competitiveness and growth. Long-term strategies to maintain and increase living standards and promote opportunity will require coordinated efforts among public, private, and not-for-profit entities to promote innovation and to prepare an adequate supply of qualified workers for employment in STEM fields. American pre-eminence in STEM will not be secured or extended without concerted effort and investment. Trends in K-12 and higher education science and math preparation, coupled with demographic and labor supply trends, point to a serious challenge: our nation needs to increase the supply and quality of “knowledge workers” whose specialized skills enable them to work productively within the STEM industries and occupations. It will not be sufficient to target baccalaureate and advanced degree holders in STEM fields. Our nation’s economic future depends upon improving the pipeline into the STEM fields for sub-baccalaureate students as well as BA and advanced degree holders, for youth moving toward employment and adults already in the workforce, for those already employed in STEM fields and those who would like to change careers to secure better employment and earnings. The seriousness of this challenge has penetrated public and opinion-makers’ consciousness—and government, industry, and education and training providers have begun to respond. NIH, NSF, and the Department of Education have been leading the federal effort. Industry associations, individual firms, foundations, and other organizations have identified and tried to fill gaps. State governments, too, are working to strengthen the STEM workforce pipeline. Much remains to be done, though, within government and across diverse sectors, to ensure that U.S. education, workforce, and economic systems rise to the STEM challenge. The U.S. Department of Labor is already an important partner in federal efforts to strengthen the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) pipeline. The U.S. Department of Labor invests about $14 billion a year in the nation’s workforce system and in increasing the skills and education of our current workforce. In addition, the Department of Labor has begun investing regionally in ways that overcome typical fragmentation in planning and action among industry, government, non-governmental organizations, and education and training institutions. The Department of Labor has the potential to play an even more important role in addressing gaps in the nation’s approach to strengthening the STEM pipeline in three areas: 1) building the gateway to STEM careers; 2) enhancing the capacity of talent development institutions to produce more and better skilled STEM workers; and 3) catalyzing and supporting innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. The leadership of the Employment and Training Administration is committed to—and stands ready to— contribute and collaborate to develop an overall national strategy around the STEM workforce pipeline and to improve coordination across federal agencies.

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Science; Technology; Engineering and Mathematics; STEM; competition; growth; training; workforce; education; public policy


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