Blurring Lines Between Tech and 'Non-Tech' Careers Highlights Need for STEM Focus
- By Vince M. Bertram, Ed.D.
Vince M. Bertram is president and CEO of Project Lead The Way and the author of "One Nation Under Taught: Solving America's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Crisis."
Virtually all industries and careers have been transformed by today's technology and, as a consequence, the need for more science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education has become increasingly clear.
One stunning example of technology's pervasiveness is that today's automobile manufacturers are now also high-tech companies. From in-dash GPS systems, satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity for smartphones, to rearview back-up cameras and automated parallel parking, the 2016 car really is a computer on wheels.
But perhaps the surest sign that automobile manufacturers have become tech companies is that Google is now also building cars. More specifically, Google is trying to build the first fully autonomous — that is, self-driving — car.
Because of technology, all industries are slowly but steadily converging, and in the process, transforming the economy. The days of clearly delineated industries and careers are quickly becoming things of the past.
Returning to the automaker analogy, engineering is not just for engines anymore. Ford, GM, Chrysler and the others also need electrical engineers, programmers and data analysts. Graduates with those skills are the same talent who are in high demand by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Airbnb and the other Silicon Valley titans.
What's true of automakers is also increasingly true of every other industry, even those perceived as being "non-tech." Every company needs employees who know how to code, program and innovate. From publishing to pharmaceuticals to furniture makers, there isn't a product that's made without substantial engineering skills, computer science and data analytics.
For the college grad entering the workforce today with those strong high-tech skills, that represents the sort of harmonic convergence that should enable them to take advantage of great career opportunities, regardless of what career field they pursue.
Still, tech companies say colleges and universities in the United States aren't turning out nearly enough STEM graduates to fill all of their available positions.
That's why at a July 27 panel discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) representatives of tech companies lamented how difficult it is to find qualified personnel and called on the federal government to spend more on STEM education.
The lack of rigorous, widely available STEM education, they said, poses a very real threat of weakening U.S. companies' global competitiveness.
Tech companies and organizations have undertaken efforts to spur the interest of young people — including girls and minorities — in STEM fields. The tech giants have also acknowledged their obligation to invest in continuing education for their employees to keep their skills up to speed.
But Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky told the audience at the ITIF panel discussion that government also needs to invest more in preparing today's students for careers in the technology of today and tomorrow.
Though a federally mandated law isn't the answer, making STEM education a national priority is one issue that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should be able to find common ground on as well.