Despite a growing demand for skilled workers versed in math and science in the nine-parish Baton Rouge metro area, local schools and colleges are way behind in meeting that demand, and, in many cases, don’t even talk to students about these fields much less indicate the jobs available.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber released a report Tuesday examining an increasing shortage of graduates for the growing number of jobs in so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.
But more than a third of public school teachers surveyed in the capital region say STEM has not been a topic of conversation at their schools, according to the report.
BRAC serves Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes.
BRAC connected STEM to hundreds of occupations, from nursing to information technology to machine mechanics.
BRAC staff, along with consultant Kim Fossey, pulled together a variety of published reports, and commissioned surveys of local employers and educators to assess the problem.
“Currently the region is facing both a job-skills gap, an achievement gap among socioeconomic and racial groups, and a lack of STEM interest among all students that threatens the readiness level for full participation in the economic boom,” the report concludes. “Increasing educational attainment and STEM skills are key to providing access to high-growth, high-wage jobs and play a significant role in accelerating job preparation and economic growth.”
While the capital region is home to pockets of STEM education, many of the region’s public school students are not ready for the STEM workforce of tomorrow and, according to a 2013 survey, about half aren’t even interested. Demand in the region for STEM workers in 2013 outstripped local supply by a three-to-two margin, according to the business group.
Drawing on information from the Louisiana Workforce Commission, BRAC estimates that four-year colleges will need 45 percent more graduates in STEM subjects, and community and technical colleges will need 217 percent more of those graduates, to meet expected demand.
Describing its analysis as conservative, BRAC estimates that at least 5,600 STEM jobs will need to be filled in 2015 — “a number that cannot be met based on current completion numbers from the regional public colleges and universities.”
BRAC’s report lays four broad goals for STEM in the capital region: increase student interest, participation and achievement in STEM; increase the number of teachers and school leaders in STEM fields; create more meaningful ways that businesses and the community can engage with STEM; and develop and implement a regional vision and action plan to set goals for STEM expansion and increase community awareness and interest.
BRAC suggests a series of tactics to achieve those goals:
- Implement national standards — not just Common Core, but also possibly Next Generation Science standards that have been adopted by a dozen states, but not in Louisiana.
- Offer more trigonometry, calculus, physics and computer science courses in high school.
- Increase ties between secondary and community and technical colleges to allow more access to nationally-recognized career and technical credentials.
- Create more “out-of school” STEM experiences for students, including job shadowing in workplaces and more time on college campuses.
- Improve teacher recruitment, preparation and training in STEM fields, as well as making it easier for industry professionals to become instructors.
- Bring teachers into the workforce to understand the problem and provide them with better information and guidance to help them interest students in STEM.
- Grow the number of schools, programs and districts that make use of best practices in STEM education.
BRAC also highlighted several promising local and state STEM initiatives from camps and after-school programs at LSU and Southern to industry-based certification initiative at Walker High School.