Public / Private Partnerships the Way Forward on STEM

Companies should support existing STEM programs.

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Joe Laymon is vice president of Human Resources, Medical and Security for Chevron Corporation. He oversees Chevron's global human resources, medical services and security functions.

Few would have predicted that the country that put the first man on the moon would, just a few decades later, face significant disparities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. But with the United States experiencing 9.1 percent unemployment, and with many jobs in technical fields unfilled, our challenges are clear.

In the energy industry alone, we face an acute human resource challenge. According to the National Petroleum Council, the number of individuals eligible for retirement outpaces the number of people entering the industry. The U.S. energy workforce must be replenished to meet the world's growing energy demands.

And yet, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that roughly 75 percent of our nation's high school students are not proficient in mathematics when they complete 12th grade, even as the primary driver of the United States' economy will be in STEM fields. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that 15 of the 20 fastest growing occupations in 2014 will require science or mathematics knowledge to successfully compete for those jobs.

In California, Chevron's home state, the challenges are particularly pronounced. The same report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that the percentage of California students proficient in STEM topics is below the national average.

Chevron is thinking years ahead about how we can invest in the development of human capital in order to build a workforce that can utilize STEM skills and ingenuity to bring energy to the global marketplace. To this end, we are partnering with a number of nonprofits in California to help drive new solutions to today's educational challenges—making small changes that are producing significant results.

In one classroom in Richmond, Calif., a community that suffers from some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, students who considered dropping out of school were re-energized with the launch of an engineering lab. Created to develop students' skills in engineering principles, the lab was made possible through our partnership with Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit that develops STEM curriculum for middle and high school students.

A few miles down the road in Oakland, Calif., we provided young women who might not otherwise be exposed to STEM fields the chance to learn about careers in technical fields through Techbridge, an organization that offers after-school and summer programs and encourages girls to pursue education in STEM disciplines. The organization offers hands-on projects, career exploration opportunities, and academic and career guidance for girls.

We depend on skilled workers to deliver safe and reliable energy. This need will only grow as the demand for energy increases around the world. And just as the energy sector plans several decades in advance, we need to take a long-term view to increasing STEM education.

To solve future employment challenges, the private sector must support STEM curriculum in our middle and high schools while partnering with nonprofits like Project Lead the Way and Techbridge. By forming partnerships, complementary assets, expertise, and resources can be leveraged to help build a competitive workforce for the 21st century and return economic prosperity to the United States by solving unemployment in the short-term and increasing our nation's competitiveness in the long-term.

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