Business & Education Connected is a new PTC member.
By Aafke Loney, MBA, President, Business and Education Connected
What do the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Change the Equation, and Bayer Material Science, LLC have in common?
A critical need. The Pittsburgh Technology Council STEM Summits have hosted Vicki Phillips, Director of Education, College Ready in the United States program for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Dr. Claus von Zastrow, COO of Change the Equation and director of research; and Gerald MacCleary, president of Bayer Material Science LLC along with additional panel guests at the past STEM Summits. All focused on the critical need for STEM education and of workers in the STEM fields.
STEM is a far-reaching arm; in Pittsburgh it reaches into the five key factors of the Pittsburgh’s economy: “advanced manufacturing, energy, financial and business services, health care and life sciences, and information and communications technology… which has outperformed other competitor regions even during one of the nation’s worst recessions.” (http://www.alleghenyconference.org/PittsburghRegionalAlliance/KeySectors.php) Presently, these economic factors have brought Pittsburgh into focus nationally and internationally. And this focus has also revealed that our Western Pennsylvania workforce is having difficulty providing Western Pennsylvania’s demand for occupationally trained workers.
According to the Three Rivers Investment Board study: Western Pennsylvania’s work force development system: challenges and opportunities, “There is a large and widening mismatch in Western Pennsylvania between the education and occupational skill level of employees and the requirements of the region’s jobs. Across the entire labor force of Western Pennsylvania (both employed and unemployed individuals), there is an over-supply of workers with bachelor’s degrees and higher (i.e., more graduates than jobs requiring those skills) and an under-supply of those without college degrees (i.e. fewer individuals than jobs requiring those skills)”. The lack of workers with the needed occupational training is becoming a critical issue for businesses. In an article, “Production jobs rare for young workers” in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, it states, “Young people in the Pittsburgh region are facing a future with fewer opportunities to garner skills, just as the population of older skilled workers is heading toward retirement.” According to Pennsylvania’s Integrated Workforce Plan (PY2012-2016) between 2015-2029 there is a projected shortfall of 350,000 of workers in the industries of utilities, manufacturing and health care because of the exodus of baby boomers from the labor force, taking with them key knowledge, skills and abilities.
Pennsylvania’s workforce development system has not had a lack of resources. Government and local foundations along with educational providers, career management organizations and Work Force Development Boards spend over $300-$350 million annually to provide a workforce development system. “If it were a line item in the state’s 2010-11 budget, the total funding for workforce development programs in Western Pennsylvania would rank fourth behind state-wide spending on Public Welfare, Education, and Corrections.” (Three Rivers Investment Board study: Western Pennsylvania’s work force development system: challenges and opportunities: http://www.trwib.org/admin/uploads/Western-Pennsylvania-Workforce-Development-FINAL.pdf
Five years ago, after reading Thomas Friedman’s book “The World is Flat” I became very interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as well as how our country and schools are falling behind globally. At the time I was serving on a local public school board as well as the local career technical school. This information of our students falling behind on a global scale created a great sense of urgency in me, for our country, our citizens and our educational systems.
In 2010 I attended my first Pittsburgh Technology Council STEM summit. After listening to key note speaker Vicki Phillips, Director of Education, College Ready in the United States program for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I realized I was a minority at this summit. I, a school board member, a decision maker in the public schools, was a minority at this 2010 summit, minority meaning the only school board member in attendance! I began to ask the panels if there were so few educators represented, how connections were being made between schools and STEM businesses? Each said this has been very difficult, building relationships. I began to challenge our school district to begin connecting to outside STEM businesses and educators, which would increase our students desire in STEM fields. Gradually we began to build relationships with outside resources while at the same time trying to determine how their programs could fit our curriculum and not interrupt meeting PDE standards. The PDE standards can be a huge barrier for schools that would like to try to involve more STEM curriculum but because of changing PDE standards, or new tests, they hesitate. Should PDE or PA state standards be missed or become lower, funding and district placement can be drastically affected. This added to the already big disconnect between education and business.
At the 2011 STEM summit, I talked with the keynote speaker, Dr. Claus von Zastrow, COO of Change the Equation. I was again concerned by his findings regarding the United States poor rankings in math and science, and what is happening in our American classrooms. After listening to one of the panel speakers, Dr. John Radzilowicz, Director of Education at Carnegie Science Center, I approached him regarding building relationships between schools particularly public schools and STEM businesses or educators to help build interest in our students to STEM. He in turn agreed with me, saying there is a big disconnect between schools and STEM businesses and they were working on ways to improve this connection.
Weeks later, I listened to Martha Kanter, the undersecretary of education; speak at Carnegie Mellon University regarding developing a highly educated workforce. As I looked around the room, the majority of the people in the room were “STEM” business representatives I had seen at each of the conferences, none being in the K-12 education field.
At the 2012 Pittsburgh STEM Summit, Gerald MacCleary, president of Bayer Material Science LLC, expressed his concern for the need of hands on learning for students, and training of science teachers. He also expressed a critical concern for the present and future lack of technology workers as well as the number of students who actually graduate in STEM programs.
Since this time, different school districts have begun expanding their STEM programs by collaborating with the generosity of outside resources. The Pine Richland School District added a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Advisory committee for the purpose of connecting students and schoolteachers to real world applications, learning opportunities, and collaboration with colleges and universities. The school district has also developed a relationship with the Carnegie Science Center, co-developing a K-12 STEAM curriculum as well as adding Project Lead the Way curriculum. The South Fayette School District has developed a successful student relationship solving real problems with All Clad. Winchester Thurston and Google’s Mobile App provides an after school academy to develop mobile app’s and introduces students to Processing, Fox Chapel School District is launching its second annual STEM Academy during the summer involving hands on learning with STEM companies, Plum Boro holds a “no holds barred” BotsIQ competition with surrounding school districts, Elizabeth Forward renovated their library/media center to inspire and encourage student creativity.
(Apologies to those school districts and businesses that were overlooked in recent collaborations.)
On a larger scale, the Carnegie Science Center has developed the Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development, and branched out with help from local companies to local school districts. Recently additional initiatives to encourage connecting businesses with education have been developed. The Allegheny Conference on Community Development has created ‘Imagine Pittsburgh’, ‘Vibrant Pittsburgh’, ‘Energy with the Power of Pittsburgh’, and ShaleNet which “includes building a globally competitive workforce as well as promoting and marketing the region regionally and globally”.
The funding, effort and time dedicated toward STEM education and Pittsburgh’s workforce development system is gradually bridging the gap between businesses and education. However, what is missing in this seeming ‘firestorm” of government, business and higher education intervention for STEM, is really the children from K-12. Generally kids do not care that the leaders in our country are in an uproar because of global rankings nor do they care that the US workforce is not educated enough to fill all the STEM jobs. Students see STEM as very difficult, unachievable, and yes, somewhat boring. They do not see America’s greater good, and they are thinking, “what is in it for me?” The question should be “How can we show our children in our United States of America that learning and desiring to learn in science, technology, engineering and math will create a strong, sustainable America in which they can look back and be proud of what they have accomplished?”
In the hope of creating a consistent connection between each of the stakeholders of business, education, student and government communities Business and Education Connected was formed. Business and Education Connected will strive to be the access point to provide career development programs centered on work linked learning through job shadowing, apprenticeships and career development workshops particularly in the STEM industries. B.E. Connected success is measured by the achievements of our students developing 21st Century Skills and the development of successful careers in the workplace. We are dedicating our resources to ensure business investments provide strong future returns.
Visit www.business-education-connected.com for more information on Business and Education Connected. Feel free to contact Aafke at (412) 496-2389 or email@example.com with questions or comments.
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