Seeking Solution Seekers
Energy offers career opportunities
By Patricia Guadalupe
Our country needs more young Latinos in careers in science and technology. The STEM Careers Coalition and its partners such as the American Petroleum Institute (API) are taking a novel approach to tackle that issue, by preparing students as early as possible.
Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs are among the fastest-growing in the U.S. economy and among the highest-paying, but many of those jobs go unfilled because of the lack of qualified applicants. The Department of Labor reports that there are currently at least two STEM job openings for every applicant, while at the same time calculating that nearly half of all new jobs in the next decade will be STEM-related. Factor in that Latinos comprise the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, and while it would seem that they could easily fill those positions, currently less than 10 percent of STEM degrees are awarded to Latino graduates. Overall, Latinos represent barely seven percent of the STEM workforce in the United States.
The STEM Careers Coalition is out to change that by “connecting STEM from K to careers,” and correcting the perception that it’s a career that is out-of-reach or “too hard.” Right on the homepage of its website, the coalition’s mission is crystal clear: “to build the next generation of solution seekers.” Over the next five years, the STEM Careers Coalition will prepare what its members call the next generation of leaders and innovators. Critical to this effort are online tools not just for students, but also for their parents. These tools will be available in Spanish by next year.
API is an anchor partner in this initiative by Discovery Education, along with Chevron, Microsoft and other companies. Formed in 1919, API represents America’s oil and gas industry, with more than 600 members that produce, process, and distribute most of the nation’s energy, supporting 10.9 million jobs in the U.S.
Rebecca Winkel is an economic advisor at API, working on workforce and education research programs, and she tells LATINO that it made perfect sense for API to get involved from the very beginning. “Recognizing the changing demographics and recognizing the need for skilled workers, we want to make sure that they are prepared for opportunities in the future. We want the best in our industry. It’s about securing a prepared workforce. In order to attract the best and the brightest we have to ensure that we are out there talking to everyone and providing the students with the skills that they need to develop the expertise,” she says. “It’s a business imperative. We are part of these communities, we work and operate in these communities and it’s important that we invest in these communities, and more importantly, support the young people.”
Like API, Chevron is involved because the company naturally wants the “best and brightest” and because more young people should know how expansive and vast the jobs are in the STEM field, says Karen Rawls, senior social investment advisor at Chevron. “Every facet of every job right now has some type of technology involved with it and we want to make sure that the upcoming generation is equipped to take up those globalized technological jobs, to keep advancing,” she says.
One of the key components of the STEM Careers Coalition is outreach to underserved communities. “Getting involved not only makes good business sense but it is the right thing to do,” agrees Rawls, who says she loves what she’s doing and says that as an African-American woman she wouldn’t be with Chevron for nearly three decades if she didn’t think it was a great workplace for people of color.
“Often times when someone doesn’t know about a particular career opportunity it’s not because they did anything wrong or were ignoring it, it was because the opportunity wasn’t presented to them and they weren’t aware,” says Winkel, who notes that as a leader in global digital education, Discovery Education was an ideal partner. ”The industry may know what kind of skills someone needs but educating them is why Discovery is there. It’s about making sure we get the education part right while we work with preparing students with the STEM skills they need.”
“It is exactly what we do, offering these solutions around education and curriculum,” says Marla Wilson, executive director of the STEM Careers Coalition at Discovery Education. “It gives us the ability to widen the road in the variety of options in STEM fields, to get the kids thinking about it very early, and also debunk the myth that it’s too difficult.”
Part of that is having students and their parents and teachers realize that STEM is not just a career or a job, but a skill. “It’s about changing the narrative by exposing students and educators not just to various career options but also the skills related to STEM. You may have students who say they’re not good at math or science or engineering but it’s about being able to show them educational pathways and opening up to the variety of careers that are connected to STEM that they may not have seen before, and open the world of possibilities and move away from those initial perceptions,” says Wilson.
One of the most important aspects of the initiative is ensuring access, and that’s why all the materials are user-friendly even on a mobile phone in households that don’t have the type of access students would normally have in a classroom environment. “There is an overwhelming need to ensure that there is a platform to provide equity in access, and through the coalition we’re able to identify districts where students reside who may not have the resources at home that they have through their schools in order to have some of the state-of-the-art education around STEM,” says Wilson. “The site is friendly to any device, including phones, to be able to use as an education resource and is free to everyone, everywhere.”
Winkel agrees that having a trusted source like Discovery Education as a partner has been a very positive, particularly for parents and teachers, and the response has been overwhelmingly favorable.
“Teachers have a lot that we ask of them but we haven’t stopped to consider that a teacher may not be trained in STEM, might not be comfortable teaching STEM, and they might not know about any of these careers that we’re asking them to tell the students about, so having these materials that they trust, including professional development tools, I think is incredibly helpful,” says Winkel. “You want to get them while they’re young, spark that innovation, that imagination, to get them engaged. Getting them interested at that early age is what is going to set this generation apart in the future. We want to make sure that we set up our students to succeed in education.”