To Boost STEM Education, Companies Need to Change How They Hire

Jamai Blivin, founder and CEO of Innovate+Educate, says that the pathway from education to employment is evolving – and companies need to adapt to hire the best and the brightest candidates.

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Science, technology, engineering, and math may be the keys to maintaining an innovation economy in the United States. But traditional STEM education alone may not be enough to keep the country competitive, some experts say. Instead, companies themselves need to find new ways to challenge the status quo.

[READ: Are Teachers' Unions Bad for STEM Education?]

"I think it's critical that all students and job seekers get STEM skills and education," Jamai Blivin, founder and CEO of Innovate + Educate, told U.S. News & World Report in a recent interview. "But not everyone will get them from a traditional education-first path. You can get them on the job. The employer's role could be to create a foundation for STEM."

"STEM is of utmost importance to our country," she adds. "We think that 90 percent of all jobs in the country really require STEM skills, with mathematics being key to success in the workplace."

[READ: Highlights from the 2013 U.S. News Stem Solutions Conference]

Blivin founded Innovate+Educate in 2009, to help close the national skills gap and align STEM education and workforce development. She says that the pathway from education to employment is evolving – and that companies need to adapt to hire the best and the brightest candidates.

"Not everyone has the opportunity or the time or the financial ability for four years of school right after high school," she points out. "So we believe a new world of work is a pathway that can go from internships to an early level job then to community college, for example -- a different pathway that we have to have so employers recognize that not everyone comes out with a four-year degree immediately."

"A degree is a label," she adds. "A degree says, 'I went to this college and got this certain degree.' Enough with the labels."

To encourage companies to consider new ways of hiring and training employees, Blivin launched the Hire Awards, a competition to encourage employers to address their own challenges, create a bigger and better talent pool, and provide new opportunities for job seekers. (The competition was created in conjunction with U.S. news & World Report.)

"With this competition we're looking at new ways the companies are saying, 'How can we find talent and human capital, how are we really working to advance human capital?'" Blivin says. "It could be total online course training. It could be employers recognizing that employees got training in a non-traditional way, like through experience in the Army, for example, where they went right from high school to the service and gained lots of skills, but are somewhat invisible because they don't have that label of a degree."

The winners of this year's Hire Awards will be announced Nov. 6 at the Close It Summit in Washington, D.C., where they'll be featured in the conference's Idea Exchange exhibit and profiled in the November 2013 edition of "The Innovation Intake." (There is still time to attend the Close It Summit , and companies can submit an application for the Hire Awards until Sept. 30.)

"The Hire Awards is a specific contest for companies with the most innovative hiring strategies," Blivin says. "So, whatever they're doing to hire in new ways -- internships, externships, working with regional partnerships -- it's really looking at what companies do to address their own hiring needs. We anticipate that this will be an annual contest, and that we'll really get to see what companies are doing."

"We believe that really the change has to happen in the hiring," she adds. "So this summit is specifically focused on the internal changes the companies are making and are willing to make to look at new ways to hire. That's really what the focus is."

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  • Lylah Alphonse

    Lylah M. Alphonse is the Managing Editor of Special Reports for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or e-mail her at