Lack of Jobs Knowledge Means Schools Miss Mark on STEM, Experts Say

Without knowledge needed to reshape curriculum, schools will continue to miss the mark, experts say.

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Schools are not teaching the skills employers need in their workforces, pushing the gap between need and knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math fields father apart, experts said Thursday at the U.S. News 2012 STEM Summit.

STEM jobs require proficiency in applied math, reading, observation, and locating information more than any other field, but companies are struggling to find high school and college graduates with these abilities, said Merrilea Mayo, founder of Mayo Enterprises.

"Observation isn't taught in schools at all," Mayo said. "We teach something called math in school … but seeing the world as math and coding it into math is completely missing from curriculum."

But this skills gap is not a surprise, and closing it will require a dialogue between educators and employers about what students need to be successful in the workplace, said Martin Scaglione, president and chief operating officer of the workforce development office at the testing company ACT.

Understanding the requirements of STEM employers and looking at data on the specifics of the job market—where the jobs are, what they pay, and how schools can train students for those jobs—can help schools shape curriculums to prepare students for the workforce, Scaglione said.

Often the jobs are not where people think they are, said Bruce Stephen, director of real-time labor intelligence research for Monster Government Solutions, using green jobs as an example.

"There are a lot of assumptions about the green economy, but we found there was very little real grasp about what was going on in these areas," Stephen said.

Data from online job postings and resume databases revealed green STEM jobs were in the transportation and heating and cooling sectors, he added.

Putting the needs of the job market into context in specific areas allows officials at community colleges and high schools to build curriculum to train to those needs, Stephen said.

Tying data and dialogue is key to solving the STEM skills gap, said Scaglione. "All the elements are there … we just need to connect them all together."