Companies Taking a Stand for STEM Education at SXSW EDU

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By: Jamie Berman, Senior Account Executive

In early March, educators, administrators, decision-makers and corporate representatives descended upon Austin, Texas for the eighth annual SXSW EDU conference to discuss the current state of education, uncover gaps in the system and identify opportunities to solve some of its most pressing challenges.

Across the board, we’ve seen the need for digital literacy and STEM skills grow, regardless of the industries today’s young people wish to enter. When it comes to getting graduates ready to enter the workforce, recent research shows a surprising gap between teachers and corporate leaders: by 2021, 67 percent of U.S. executives expect they’ll choose job candidates with data skills over those without, but only 23 percent of teachers believe their students will graduate with these skills.

One SXSW EDU panel, led by Don Bossi, president of the global STEM nonprofit FIRST*, took a hard look at this skills gap. The conversation included representatives from Qualcomm and Rockwell Automation and addressed how both sides – educators and professionals – can collaborate to bridge the gap together. Beyond a better understanding of the landscape, the audience came away with tangible ideas for employee engagement, community impact and partnership:

Business strategy must include corporate responsibility: Workforce development and the talent pipeline are a growing concern for HR managers across industries, so companies have a role to play in developing the future professionals they’ll one day hire. Organizations should factor philanthropic investments, employee mentorship, community involvement and more into their strategic leadership plans. Doing so not only creates better relationships and student outcomes, but gets an organization’s products and services into the hands of young people faster, improving brand awareness and affinity.

To create interest, connect the dots: Educators should look beyond traditional classroom and lecture-based learning to seek opportunities for hands-on experiences and mentorship. Helping kids see how concepts apply to the real world and what their future careers may look like will help them understand the career possibilities that lie ahead.

For true job security, teach kids how to think: As new technologies emerge and the world of work changes, there is no perfect way to prepare today’s youth for tomorrow’s careers. By teaching kids not only the classroom knowledge they’ll need, but helping them learn problem-solving, communication and teamwork skills, we can better empower them to lead, create and innovate.

So, whether it’s creating a scholarship program, sending employees into local classrooms or meeting with your local education leaders to better understand their issues, there are many ways businesses can get involved and make a difference. Together, companies and educators can be powerful forces for change, impacting not only the futures of countless young people, but the inventions and advancements they have the potential to create.

*Cone client