We Need A Pipeline, Not A Wall: Tapping Homegrown Talent For 2.4 Million STEM Jobs

The United States is tapping out of STEM talent.

For two generations, we have systemically limited equitable access to STEM learning by failing to fund education in all sectors of our society. As a result, the U.S. companies upon which we rely for economic growth and sustainability have been forced to import science and engineering talent from other countries in order to satisfy an exponential demand for STEM-literate employees. With foreign businesses in emerging economies now competing for the finite pool of global STEM talent, our country is about to go begging. Moreover, no matter how committed we may be to improving economic conditions in all 50 states, this cannot be done without developing a comprehensive STEM education pipeline for untapped talent in our inner cities and throughout the Rust Belt.

Estimating that there will be 2.4 million STEM-based job vacancies by 2018, Time Magazine's Tim Bajarin writes in How STEM Skills Are the Next Great Equalizer that by failing to stay the course set by Former President John F. Kennedy to educate scientists and engineers, we do not have "the millions of new workers skilled in STEM needed [to make] our connected world a reality."

By failing to educate all of our children in STEM, we are eating our seed corn.

There is a wellspring of untapped talent in America waiting to be educated, motivated and deployed as the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators. They are vibrant young people - black, white, brown and yellow - who can secure meaningful STEM jobs and change our present course if our National Will is rekindled by the next president, Hillary Clinton.

In the first 2016 presidential debate billed as "Achieving prosperity; America's direction; and securing America," only Secretary Clinton advocated a way forward through education. "(The) more we can invest in you, your education, your skills, your future, the better we will be off and the better we'll grow. That's the kind of economy I want us to see again."

We need STEM education for all, from pre-kindergarten through college, because our nation's strength is predicated upon our ability to innovate in STEM. Without a homegrown STEM-literate workforce, we are in grave danger of decline.

There is an old adage "as Ohio goes, so goes the nation." In her new book As Ohio Goes, Life in the Post-Recession Nation, Rana B. Khoury examines the United States through the plight of Ohio's inner cities, suburbs and rural towns, concluding that "economic inequality and growing income gap threatens democratic representation, equal opportunity, and even the American Dream itself." After years after ranking 5th in the nation, Ohio's education system has fallen to 23rd, with a yawning gap between the affluent and those living in poverty.

Poverty is no longer someone else's problem, and "law and order" alone is not how we secure our nation. Speaking at the memorial service for five Dallas police officers this summer, President Obama said, "...we ask too little of ourselves. As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools.... it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book...."

And it is not just poverty, Clinton argues. "[R]ace still determines too much, often determines where people live, determines what kind of education in their public schools they can get, and, yes, it determines how they're treated in the criminal justice system."

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is following the life of David Boone, an African American youth from a broken home who resisted pressure to join gangs and survived gun violence and homelessness to graduate from Harvard University, thanks to a STEM ecosystem made up of teachers, mentors, volunteers and business people who supported his dream of becoming an engineer. David inspired me at the convening of STEM Ecosystem communities in Washington DC last year, but as Jan Morrison, President and CEO, TIES has said often, "David is the exemplar of what we can achieve for our youth; he must not be the exception."

Last week, Clinton opened an important national conversation about expanding AmeriCorps and creating a National Service Reserve as a way of deploying millions of motivated, talented Millennials to help their communities. Ultimately such a program could be a way to ramp up community assistance for STEM learning in preschools, schools, afterschool programs and weekend/summer camps. It could be a vehicle for implementing college loan forgiveness through community service similar to the National Health Service Corps through which my daughter retired her nursing education loans through service at a health clinic near a Chicago public housing project.

Although regional movements like the STEM Ecosystem Initiative are striving to close STEM education gap, the next president will be the driving force behind the education pipeline required to fuel our STEM-thirsty economy. Preparing all American youth for STEM jobs of tomorrow must be our highest national priority - not building walls.