For too long now, we have all seen the headlines bemoaning the "skills gap", the dearth of qualified U.S. workers to fill a fast-growing slate of jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). April 1 will mark the start of this year's application period for high-skilled foreign-born workers seeking U.S. work visas. So many of the world's talented workers are expected to apply that the federal government will stop accepting applications in a matter of days, if not hours. That's why American businesses can no longer accept the status quo. We have an obligation to foster a passion for STEM education right here.
Why STEM? The statistics are alarming. Only 16 percent of U.S. high school seniors are considered proficient in mathematics and are also interested in a STEM career, according to the Education Department. Even among those who pursue STEM courses in college, only about half go on to work in STEM fields. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's 2012 Program for International Student Assessment found that 15-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 26th out of 34 OECD countries in mathematics. In science, the result was only slightly better. Even worse, neither of these rankings has budged significantly over time.
These results are self-defeating. STEM fields represent the jobs of the future.