Future Employment is All About Skill Sets

There has been an ongoing discussion at Rebane’s Ruminations about the availability of Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) graduates needed by industry. One commenter points out that there are many unemployed American engineers, and that companies are just looking for cheap labor by employing young engineers from foreign countries. Others attribute the shortage due to the lack of qualified graduates from US Universities, such as this article. Ars Technica: Are we producing too few or too many science and technology grads?

This strange situation—a simultaneous glut and shortage—is what the NYAS report calls the “STEM paradox.” Both problems are real, and they’re the result of mismatched priorities. As Jeanne Dunn, vice president of Learning@Cisco put it when the report was introduced, when it comes to STEM graduates, “there’s a huge imbalance of talent—where they are and the types of things they are skilled in.” So, even though our graduate schools may be producing highly qualified researchers, the research they’re prepared for is often only appropriate in an academic setting; commercial entities end up looking for a different set of skills. Industry also ends up looking for more people at early stages of their careers—the bachelors and masters levels—but only if they have a relevant skill set. For the most part, undergraduate educations don’t provide those. The result of these is part of the imbalance that Dunn mentioned.

I have highlighted the reference to skill sets. Many older engineers have not kept up with changes in technology, they have not expanded their skill sets as these changes have taken place. In my experiences as a TRW Laboratory Manager, University of California graduates produces some fine researchers that are short on problem solving, where as State Universities and Poly Technical schools graduate more skilled problem solvers with some finely honed skill sets. If I were starting a business today, I would be looking for CalPoly graduates.

One of the other issues contributing to the lack of skilled problems solvers is the dearth of qualified candidates entering our universities with entry level math skills. Locally, students wishing to be more prepared for a STEM career are seeking the best available education and are transferring to high schools outside of Nevada County. Nevada Union and Bear River are not know for their strong math programs, in fact they are know for their weak math programs. More detains on the transferes HERE, maybe behind a paywall.

One method of honing skill sets is to use massive open online courses (MOOC) from some of the best Universities in America, and by dedicated technical community resources like Linux, R and Python. A recent study has shown that MOOC participants are learning new skills equal to or better than on campus students. More information HERE.

I have been using MOOC courses to hone my skill sets. One of the greatest challenges is keeping life from getting in the way of completing a course, visiting friends, camping and vacation trips with limited WiFi access, etc. My ongoing message to our grandchildren is that they need to develop and hone skill sets that will give them an advantage in the job market, and have introduced them to online education resources to supplement their highschool education. All four of my daughters left for college with computer skills, which gave them an advantage in the job market. Students are graduating from college with no employable skills, and high student debt.

Make sure that your children and grandchildren do not fall into this trap.

About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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