Second Look: Increasing STEM Workforce by Improving STEM Perception
The Public Perception Index, published annually since 2009, states that the U.S. public greatly supports the manufacturing industry and would choose to have a manufacturing plant open in their region over other types of employers and yet is unwilling to encourage their children to pursue careers in manufacturing. Because many jobs in the 10 county service area of the college are going unfilled due to lack of knowledge of the high-skill, high-demand careers available and the preconceived negative views of advanced manufacturing (AM) employment and careers, Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKYCTC). and regional AM employers are collaborating to increase the number of students, including women and underrepresented populations, who are knowledgeable of and pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), particularly AM. Additional partners include Barren River Area Development District (BRADD) officials, Workforce Investment Board members, and Chambers of Commerce.
This project has the potential to substantively change the public perception of the career opportunities available in STEM and the manufacturing sector throughout south central Kentucky, and ultimately, by replication, to other regions facing STEM deficits in the workforce pipeline. By targeting high school students and their career influencers (parents, teachers, and counselors) and exposing them to the true nature of advanced manufacturing, the college and its partners in industry and education are producing and sustaining a new pipeline of students who pursue STEM/AM disciplines by encouraging them to engage in rewarding careers in advanced manufacturing in south central Kentucky, and thus addressing the workforce needs in this high-wage, high-demand career sector. An extensive evaluation is being conducted to determine the effect of the project on increased participation in STEM/AM secondary pathways and postsecondary programs at the college.
This project is designed to offer a series of summer STEM camps, in-class workshops in STEM/AM during the school year, and complementary materials and activities suitable for dissemination and replication. All endeavors are designed to change the negative perceptions of career influencers such as parents, teachers and counselors and to increase the number of students pursuing STEM and AM careers. This project is based on the findings of the Mass-TEC (Massachusetts Technician Education Collaborative) project and is adapting activities of that project. Mass-TEC was a collaboration of Quinsigamond Community College and industry partners that was created to educate teachers, guidance counselors, career advisors, and families on career pathways leading to advanced manufacturing opportunities in Central Massachusetts. Integrating the proven resources of the Mass-TEC project, as well as creating regionally-based information that targets students and their primary career-influencers, this project is increasing the local STEM workforce pipeline and strengthening the economic vitality of south central Kentucky. The 10-county service area of the college is largely rural and the primary career opportunities have traditionally been in agriculture and manufacturing. Because manufacturing was historically a line job, the public continues to perceive manufacturing as consisting of mindless, repetitive work in environments that are dark, dirty, and dangerous. This public misperception is perpetuated by career influencers who discourage students from STEM and advanced manufacturing career options.