STEM Deserves an "A"

Both technical skills and understanding the humanities have a place in the current and future workforce.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years you are familiar with national push for STEM education, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, as critical curriculum subjects in our schools. An emphasis on these subjects is in part being driven by public and private sectors that are concerned our future workers are not being educated with skills that the economy needs now and as the 21st century unfolds.

These concerns are particularly acute within the manufacturing community. It’s been reported that job openings in manufacturing number in the hundreds of thousands and even in the millions. Yet the applicants for these jobs are woefully short of the skills required.

Most of the blame for this mismatch is being touted as a skills gap whereby available workers are not properly trained for the jobs that modern manufacturing has available. In search of a magic bullet for this discontinuity, an obsession on STEM education is being proffered by our public officials, including the POTUS.

Basically, the drumbeat is saying that liberal arts education has become irrelevant in favor of technical training as represented by STEM. I can remember when so-called “New Math” was thrust upon my generation when I was in the sixth grade. It didn’t last and is now considered to have been a fad that failed. I would hate for STEM to become the New Math equivalent for this generation.

Yes, we need to up our national game when it comes to technical education in this globally competitive world. In many categories, we’re getting our hats handed to us versus many other countries. However, is teaching STEM to the exclusion of the arts the right answer?

There is a movement that would add an “A” to STEM that would represent the arts. The acronym would morph into “STEAM.”

Actually, I think the use of an acronym to keep the need for science, technology, engineering and math top of mind for most people is important and beneficial. However, I don’t agree that it should be to the exclusion of the arts.

I work with two editors that I think are prime examples of this blending of technical and artistic skills. Call it right brain meets left brain.

Both of these fellow editors are degreed engineers and really know the technical side of the material we deal with as trade magazine journalists. They are a great help to me. However, working against type, they are also both excellent writers. Often, these skills are considered mutually exclusive, but in reality, people are a blend of technical capability and artistic skills.

I think that to educate future workers with the skills that the economy needs is much more that a blind adherence to a relatively narrow curriculum. Rather, the traits that make American workers unique should be cultivated along with STEM.

Creativity, how to think, how to communicate and how to appreciate help make people better contributors to a company and to society. We Americans are credited for having a culture that encourages innovation and creativity. We probably should be careful about subordinating those characteristics in favor of too narrow a focus in our education system. Smart, passionate people are much dearer to companies, even if their skill sets don’t exactly match the position.

I don’t see why we can’t have it all in this country. Both technical skills and understanding the humanities have a place in the current and future workforce, and if taught correctly, can make for a much more interesting society.

Our company’s former head of IT, Jason, has a degree in archeology and can read and write Latin and Greek. That went along with his education in information technology. We had many a good conversation about classical societies. Spending some time with this man was fun, interesting and educational.

I’d prefer we turn out more people like Jason, who has the technical skills that complement his interest and knowledge of the humanities. I’m not suggesting we scrap STEM, but perhaps we can “humanize” it a little by adding an “A”.