Kyle loves science class and thinks he’d like to be an engineer, but as a first-generation college student, he doesn’t know where to begin determining his postsecondary education. Angie feels that as an African-American computer coder, she has to work twice as hard as everyone else to gain the respect she deserves at work, and that she is often overlooked for opportunities. Melissa wanted to join the math team at school, but her friends think that math is only for geeks and she doesn’t want to lose her popularity. When we think of creating STEM opportunities for young people, we often overlook the very root causes that perpetrate the “STEM talent gap,” assuming that a few more math courses or a single afterschool program can make all the difference. On the contrary, it is only through cross-sector collaboration and long-term investment that we can really bridge the real gaps in STEM workforce development. 

Recent research from STEMconnector (State of STEM: Defining the Landscape to Determine High-Impact Pathways) seeks to shed some light on this issue, presenting a detailed examination of the forces and factors underlying the STEM talent gap and providing a roadmap for investment across sectors.

Report author Erin White presents a confluence of five gaps which create our current workforce challenges. These gaps include fundamental skills development, postsecondary credentialing, geography, demographics and belief. Young people need to be given ample opportunity to develop the fundamental skills necessary for today’s workforce. They need additional guidance and support to navigate complex pathways toward earning the credentials that will get them jobs. More can be done to create opportunity in areas of high population but little economic growth, or in areas of booming economic growth, to bring opportunities to the local populations. Despite decades of investment trying to attract and retain more women and people of color in STEM careers, the needle isn’t moving. And finally, if we don’t create a culture where young people believe in themselves to pursue and succeed in STEM careers, they won’t. We need to do better.

Investing across each of these gaps will help us to ensure that we don’t lose talent like Kyle, Angie and Melissa along the pathways to future careers. Long-term investment and cross-sector partnership and collaboration will help us to ensure a diverse and robust STEM workforce.