Advancing the STEM Workforce through Stem-Centric Career Development: As ITEEA Members Prepare Students for the Success Skills Needed within a "Skills Bias" Workplace, Taking a STEM-Centric View Can Prove Helpful

By Feller, Rich | Technology and Engineering Teacher, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Advancing the STEM Workforce through Stem-Centric Career Development: As ITEEA Members Prepare Students for the Success Skills Needed within a "Skills Bias" Workplace, Taking a STEM-Centric View Can Prove Helpful


Feller, Rich, Technology and Engineering Teacher


Preparing for the future isn't what it used to be. Yet, advising students, preparing lessons, and promoting the value of STEM options remains constant. As a result, technical and engineering educators seek clarity about the future of careers, career development, and ways to promote STEM options.

Recently, the ITEEA conference allowed me to speculate about the importance of a STEM-Centric Career Development perspective. As ITEEA members prepare students for the success skills needed within a "skills bias" workplace, taking a STEM-Centric view can prove helpful. This article offers insights about the changing workplace, careers, and the importance of technology and engineering educators in promoting technological literacy for all.

The Context of Future Careers

Regardless of one's ZIP code or STEM achievement level, adding value through innovation and creativity are key to future employment and sustainable careers. Only by improving the quality and effectiveness of services or increases in profitability can one's standard of living and quality of life grow. Pink (2006) offers three insightful questions for educators and students to consider in career preparation. They are (1) Can someone do it cheaper overseas? (2) Can a computer do it faster? and (3) Is what you're selling in demand in an age of abundance? In a high-performance global workplace, being mediocre or without passion is not a good place to be regardless of title, credential, or seniority.

Developing countries find greater wealth creation when delivering research and development, design, marketing and sales, and global supply chain management. Here the technical STEM skills receive greater compensation and provide more security and potential within a dynamic workplace. Low-performance workplaces find more routine work being done by less skilled people and machines, which are more easily automated, outsourced, and competing with world wages.

Mishel, Bernstein, and Shierholtz (2008) identified five dominant and emerging themes regarding the new workplace: strong growth in productivity; weak growth of jobs; stagnant or falling real household income for families; increasingly unequal distribution of the benefits of economic growth; and increased income immobility produced by the previous factors. Those at the very top 10% of the income ladder reaped 90% of all the growth from 1986-2006. For the top 1%, income more than tripled, while the bottom half of the top 10% income grew 32%.

Much of the upheaval contributing to such bifurcated income distribution can be attributed to what O'Toole and Lawler (2006) identified as low-cost operators, global competitor corporations, and high-involvement companies. To keep goods and services prices as low as possible, managers of low-cost companies developed a business model focused on continuously reducing all operation costs. Global competitor corporations are agile, global "wave-riders" that move products, services, capital, jobs, operations, and employees quickly and frequently across time zones and continents. Egalitarian workplace organizations with few class distinctions between managers and employees are called high-involvement companies, offering workers challenging and enriched jobs, a say in managing their own tasks, and a commitment to low turnover and few layoffs. O'Toole and Lawler (2006) reported on how these three kinds of organizations were managed and the consequences they created for American workers, the nation's economy, and society. Their analysis suggested the following themes essential to understanding workplace change and gaining insight to career opportunities:

1. Insufficient creation of new "good jobs"

2. Increased choice and risk for workers

3. Increased influence of competitive and economic drivers

4. Increased tension between work and family life

5. Mismatch between skills and business needs

6. …

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