A recent study from MTSU examined ways to strengthen the workforce of professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It sought to glean insights from CEOs, as C-suite executives and industry leaders, about the role of parents, educators, businesses, and the government in preparing a sustained skilled STEM workforce pipeline.

The responses were then analyzed to determine what they believe is the most important factors for increasing the number of STEM-capable graduates and, ultimately, a sustained STEM workforce.

Establishing and maintaining the supply of skilled STEM workers is an issue that many businesses currently face. As labor market analysts identify a shortage of qualified workers, the demand to fill STEM jobs continues to increase. CEOs can provide unique perspectives on the roles of parents, educators and schools, industry and community partners, and government on this issue. The MTSU survey consisted of 45 CEOs located in the Southeastern United States and collected their responses to a series of questions concerning workforce projections.

“We chose to focus our study on Georgia, where a large number of Fortune 500 companies are based. Georgia has the highest-ranked workforce training program in the country, which further provided an appropriate baseline for analysis,” said Murat Arik, director of the BERC.

This staffing problem is predicted to continue once the job market returns to low unemployment rates and companies continue hiring STEM workers from around the world.

Why? There are “leaks” of potential STEM workers at all stages in the United States’ education system. For example, in schools that offer Algebra 1 to eighth-graders, only 24% take it. Yet, students with strong math foundations are more likely to pursue STEM subjects in high school and a STEM major in college. These “leaks” are persistent throughout the educational and career processes.

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A  a coordinated intervention involving parents, educators, government, and businesses – the ecosystem – is needed along the educational and career pipeline. CEOs can provide unique insights on the interconnectedness between these key players, with the goal being to create and support a sustainable skilled STEM workforce within the U.S.

1. Role of parents

As the first line of contact, parents play a vital role in their children’s educational and career pathways. They support the development of STEM knowledge by nurturing their children’s natural abilities through STEM games and enrolling them in STEM-related extra-curricular activities and opportunities to foster the proper development of their talents.

From an early age, parents can highlight STEM as a career choice. While guiding their children through shopping for the right college, parents can help set the stage for a STEM career.

2. Role of educators

From elementary to university, CEOs suggest that educators can inspire students to pursue STEM as an educational option and as a career path. Schools can integrate STEM materials throughout the educational systems. Educators can host STEM competitions and invite industry speakers to encourage STEM as a career option for students.

3. Role of government

CEOs recommend that the government should foster interest in STEM education by mandating STEM as a school program requirement, weaving it into the “traditional” classes. Some STEM graduates pursue careers outside of their field of study. Thus, the government needs to encourage the U.S. talent and to be competitive with the international STEM workforce.

Action items for business and industry leaders

CEOs indicate that business leaders can contribute to solving these challenges by raising awareness about STEM education and getting involved in STEM curriculum.

Being an advocate of STEM disciplines in your local communities and establishing partnerships with educators, schools, and universities are pathways for raising awareness. Encourage STEM professionals at all experience levels within your organizations to get engaged as well. Consider hosting field trips, being guest speakers in classes, and serving as judges for STEM-related contests.

Getting involved in STEM curriculum includes activities such as participation in advisory boards for high schools and universities and formal partnerships with higher education entities to advance and strengthen STEM education at the university level. Business leaders can provide invaluable insights for curricula regarding desired skillsets and learning outcomes when programs are launched or updated.

Business leaders must actively monitor the factors affecting the supply and demand of STEM workers. Become advocates for STEM and get involved. Your help is critical to achieving a sustained STEM pipeline.

You can read What CEOs Have to Say: Insights on the STEM Workforce online. This paper was coauthored by Sam Zaza, assistant professor of information systems and analytics; Kristie Abston, assistant professor of management; Murat Arik, director business and economic research center; Patrick Geho, professor of management; and Victor Sanchez, graduate student of the Jennings A. Jones College of Business at MTSU. The newly published research is part of a larger economic development project, STEM Workforce Dynamics in the Tennessee Valley Corridor, sponsored by the Tennessee Small Business Development Center.

Jennings A. Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University enrolls over 3,400 students and maintains a full range of degree, professional development, and continuing education programs in business. The college is in the top 1.5% of business schools worldwide, holding AACSB International accreditation for both the entire business program and the accounting program.