May 3, 2022

The Future of STEM: Closing the Skills Gap with Education Technology

stem worker researching new technologies

Digital transformation and advanced technologies, including machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence, continue to shape current and future jobs across a broad range of industries in ways that no one could predict. On top of that, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of advanced technology as industries across the board quickly pivoted to prioritize digital-first strategies to ensure business survival. Unfortunately, the number of skilled workers available to fill these tech-focused roles isn’t keeping pace with the demand from employers.

Globally, we’re facing a worker shortage in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Available job openings for skilled workers exceed the number of employees available by hundreds of thousands. Businesses are feeling the impact. According to a January 2022 survey by the National Association of Business Economics (NABE), 57% of respondents are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, up 10% from the previous quarter. And it will continue to get worse. Experts expect the skills gap to widen over the next decade. By 2025, it’s estimated that 3.5 million jobs in STEM will need to be filled.

Statistics like this are daunting, but education technology provides a path - one that is accessible for all types of job seekers, employees, learners and more - to close the skills gap.

State of the Skills Gap Today

The importance of STEM to future economic prosperity and innovation cannot be underestimated. STEM has been a focus of governmental and educational efforts for several years. For example, last year the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched an initiative called, “The Time is Now: Advancing Equity in Science and Technology Ideation Challenge,” calling on the American public to share their ideas to increase participation in science and technology. But we’ve yet to see drastic steps to increase participation and education.

It’s no secret that workers are in high demand and education in math, science and related fields is a key building block to produce a future workforce with the skills required by advanced technology. Experts predict that the demand for many STEM jobs will continue to increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects strong growth for many science related occupations in the U.S., including epidemiologists, medical scientists, biochemists and biophysicists, biological technicians and more.

Unfortunately, in the U.S., lack of participation in disciplines like engineering and information technology prevents our country from creating enough professionals needed to meet modern-day hiring demands. America may be home to some of the world’s most innovative tech companies, but many students here have fallen behind in these areas of learning. According to the National Science Foundation, 15-year-old students in the U.S. taking the Program for International Student Assessment for math and science score an average of 481 out of 600. Compare this to South Korea and Japan, where students score an average of 554 and 536, respectively. 

Why is the U.S. lagging behind? One reason could be that jobs in STEM often require advance degrees that often take longer to complete than training for other professions, or perhaps it’s insufficient preparation and motivation in education that leads to attrition. Whatever the root cause of the problem, improvement is needed. Fortunately, there are digital tools and resources available to build a solid foundation in STEM whether you’re a soon-to-be graduate or someone hoping to make a career change.

Overcoming Barriers and Nurturing Future Innovators

As the demand to fill STEM-related jobs rises, so does the need for the education system to come together to break down the barriers for entry.

The underrepresentation of women and people from minority backgrounds working in STEM is staggering. According to Pew Research, Black workers make up 9% of the STEM workforce, Hispanic workers represent 8% and women continue to remain underrepresented in engineering, computer and physical science occupations. The evidence of disparity here cannot be ignored, but educational technology can help provide greater access to all learners.

Technology is an indispensable component of any education program related to science, engineering and math. Today, the use of technology encourages students to become innovative and to develop creative and critical thinking skills. Advances in new computer applications and digital tools help facilitate a collaborative working environment for any type of learner. Students now have access to course instructions via mobile devices, online learning, virtual laboratories and more. These technology-rich programs not only help students develop their ability to problem solve, but also improve their tech-literacy. Students can enhance their ability to demonstrate creative thinking and develop innovative products and processes using technology. Technology’s role in STEM education is undeniable and harnessing its power can fundamentally change how people learn.

As a global education provider, Cengage Group believes all learners - regardless of their background - should have access to education and feel empowered to pursue learning and career opportunities in STEM fields. Now more than ever, educational technology and online skills-based learning tools provide more people, especially those looking to make a career change or take on a new position, with the access and flexibility to learn a variety of skills.

At Cengage Group, we’re committed to providing online access to course content and activities to help close the skills gap and provide learners with needed workplace knowledge. Our online resources continue to produce results that accelerate and improve learning. We have many ways to help learners with STEM education, including:

  • ed2go online classes to help you get the job, the raise or the promotion in a wide range of careers.
  • SAM, an interactive online learning environment, that helps students master Microsoft Office and computer concepts essential to academic and career success.
  • MindTap, an online learning platform that gives instructors complete course control and the ability to craft personalized, engaging experiences that boost performance and deliver access to eTextbooks, study tools and more. 
  • WebAssign delivers online homework and secure testing, plus eTextbook and study resources for students

Technology Education in Action

As an Information Systems student at George Washington University, Teresa had difficulty balancing a full schedule while trying to master Microsoft Excel. By using SAM, Teresa was able to practice specific tasks with instruction and immediate feedback. Before, Teresa was using Excel at about 20% of its capacity. After the SAM program, she has new skills that prepare her for other courses like Accounting and Operations Management. Teresa says of her success, “I could not have passed and prepared for the [Microsoft Office Specialist] exam without SAM preparation!”

Another example is Sandra, a professor at Northwest Mississippi Community College. Sandra needed a digital solution that would offer dynamic and interactive resources to prepare her computing students for the workplace. Using SAM as a teaching tool in the classroom, Sandra could provide her computing students with real-world skills to use in their careers, in addition to boosting their exam scores. At the end of the semester, Sandra also saw a significant increase in confidence among students and noticed they were no longer afraid to use new technologies.

“I think of SAM as my godsend to my classes,” remarked Sandra. “The projects, tutorials and trainings directly correlate with real-life situations which my students found to be quite useful.”

As students, jobs seekers, employees and employers continue to navigate the modern workforce, expanded skills in emerging technology-focused industries will continue to be in demand. Focusing on STEM education and training is the key to building and sustaining a growing economy and a thriving workforce. That means not only ensuring that students in school have the tools to succeed, but also those who are already in the workforce have the consistent training to adapt to inevitable industry changes.

We’re not going to close the skills gap overnight. It’s a major hurdle that will require deep investments and innovative ways of skilling and working. Cengage Group is here to be the driving force in making these changes for learners of all kinds.

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