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STEM Education Support Key to Diverse Workforce of Tomorrow

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Washington STEM and its partners want to triple the number of under-represented students in STEM fields by 2030. (Washington STEM)
Washington STEM and its partners want to triple the number of under-represented students in STEM fields by 2030. (Washington STEM)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
December 17, 2018

SEATTLE – How will Washington state diversify its workforce as technology radically changes the jobs landscape?

One answer is investment in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education for underserved students.

By 2030, two-thirds of family-sustaining job openings in the Evergreen State are projected to require STEM credentials, according to the group Washington STEM.

But the group's chief program officer, Andy Shouse, says children of color and from low-income families start kindergarten behind in math proficiency.

He says the gaps grow larger as they age, hampering attainment in STEM subjects.

"It's a problem that's very deeply rooted, and if we're going to diversify those workforces, we have to attend to a life-course experience of the future worker,” Shouse stresses. “And that means we've got to pay attention to what happens from the time they enter the system until they're in employment."

In the next legislature, Shouse hopes lawmakers support better data collection so the state can be held accountable for its progress on this.

He maintains it's a social justice issue as well as an economic issue, because the state isn't expected to fill the growing number of STEM-related jobs on its current trajectory.

Kaiser Permanente is partnering with Washington STEM in its mission to triple the number of under-represented students in STEM by 2030.

Angela Howard, director of talent management and culture for Kaiser Permanente Washington, notes these subjects open key pathways into health care jobs, and not always in the ways one might expect.

"Artificial intelligence and robotics, and things like that,” she points out. “Where we're going as a health care industry, and innovation around health care, are all aspects that STEM would prepare a student for in the future."

Shouse says STEM education extends beyond setting people up for work. He sees it as a type of language for understanding the world.

"Even if you don't find yourself in a quote STEM industry, you're going to be influenced by this,” he states. “It's a literacy, it's an understanding of the digital world, an understanding of the built world, it's an understanding of design and engineering – and those things are permeating every industry."

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