When in doubt, blame the STEM educators: 100 years of finger pointing is enough

We’ve all seen the reports that echo the Business Roundtable survey of its members where more than 95 percent of CEOs indicated that their companies suffer from skills shortages. This skills shortage is reflected in the broader U.S. labor market, as there are more than 3.9 million U.S. job openings, yet more than 11 million U.S. workers remain unemployed. These data points are indicative of an alarming trend: There is a persistent and growing mismatch between the skills that U.S. workers possess and the skills that U.S. businesses need.

Who’s to blame?

By writing this, I know I’m speaking to the choir … STEM educators will read it, but the people that really need to hear this message probably never will.  Yet, it’s a point that must be made, and it must be made more often and from more hill tops.

The findings and reports of our top CEO’s are not new … this same message is merely an echo of business leadership since the dawn of the industrial revolution and probably well beyond.

Unquestionably, developing a skilled and prepared workforce is a challenge that is interwoven into the fabric of the education system.  But STEM educators … somehow… seem to bear the brunt if not all of the blame when the product of the system does not seem to align with the demand from industry.

More to the point, for more than 100 years, the blame for the skills gap has been placed at the feet of the secondary education system … and more specifically at the feet of the teachers and counselors that stand on the front lines of that system.

Elaine B Johnson poignantly summarizes not only the education-business climate of 1917, but that of the 1980’s to the present in stating, “Business has never hesitated to shape the aims of education to serve its immediate interests.  From approximately 1880 to 1917, and from 1980 to the present day, business groups have pressured public schools to respond to their particular needs… If only  high schools did a better job of preparing students for the workplace, business groups contended, then companies could do a better job of competing.”

That message from the early 1900’s has been repeated over and over again … which suggests that there may be more to the issue than getting secondary educators on board.  The simple fact that we as a nation haven’t figured much of anything out is evidence that our search for solutions entirely within secondary education reform is misplaced.

How is it possible that in this day and age … “The bridges needed to connect academic, technical and employability knowledge, skills and disposition are still being built.” – Moscon & Thompson, Experience makes the best teachers, 2013

Perhaps it’s time to flip the question around and ask instead … Who in the corporation is charged with workforce development? And how is their success measured?

Laurie Bassi, CEO of McBassi & Co. (a leading workforce development consulting firm and research partner of the Society of Human Resource Management SHRM) is summarizes the issue by saying, “If Firm A makes a major investment in developing its people and Firm B does not, all investors see is that Firm A has a lot higher costs.”  In this case, we are merely talking about internal investment in existing employees … which does not answer the primary question I just posed.  Frankly … there are no metrics to measure or account for workforce development within a corporation.  Human capital is measured by “time to fill” vacant positions, by “turnover” and “retention” and “productivity.”  A measurement for assuring that technical workers will exist to hire in the future?  *crickets* And yet, human capital is trumpeted as the most important business factor in 2015 ….

At least  SHRM is still working on a Standard that companies will agree to … someday.

In truth, far too many companies pass the buck and the blame for worker preparation to an education system with which they are not involved.

We at STEM Jobs want to be part of the solution … to be that bridge to connect classrooms to careers.  In May, we’ll be unveiling our Top 25 STEM Jobs Approved Employers.  We’ve already initiated our ratings program and begun to list those employers that are engaging and investing in developing the future technical workforce that they need to hire.  Here’s the link to our list – we’ll be updating this on a regular basis – and each issue of STEM Jobs highlights top employers in specific occupation areas.

To our educators out there – we say thank you, you are appreciated, and you are not alone!




  1. Trevor Moore says:

    My name is Trevor Moore. I am a Building Trades Teacher in Houston, Tx. I have found this to be very true also. I have learned to challenge my students with this situation. The results when student see the relevance of math and science. They can understand it better. I have an off task assignment and I call it, How do you want to live. I’ll have students fill in the blanks on how much they will pay for rent, utilities, food, clothing, cell phones, internet, car note, insurance, minor repairs, eating out movies and miscellaneous expenses. Then the next angle is how math plays a role in your everyday life. Then students say I don’t need to know anything about Science and again you make it relevant.

    Mr. Moore

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