Will Pittsburgh Face a Shortage of STEAM Workers in 2020?

Jobs are returning but not everyone will be ready to take them unless we do more to prepare our students for a high-skilled workforce. In that respect, Pittsburgh is ahead of the curve.

The US is bracing for a crisis. The types of jobs we’re creating need high-skilled workers, but our schools are not turning out enough of these workers. By 2020, when the current crop of middle schoolers is about to graduate from high school, the US will produce 55 million new jobs but we’ll face a shortage of 5 million workers who have the necessary skills to fill those jobs, according to a recent Georgetown University study.

Many of those jobs will be in science, technology engineering, and math (STEM). A majority will require higher education. Nationally, 65 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training, up from 28 percent in 1973, according to the Georgetown study. In Pennsylvania, 63 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education.

The lack of highly qualified STEM professionals has already had its effects on our economy. But by the time today’s high school freshman graduate from college, the study projects STEM workers will be even higher demand from both new growth and the baby boomers retiring.

Interest in these careers often starts in the classroom. This Microsoft infographic shows that four out of five college students made the decision to study STEM in high school or earlier. So how to ignite a passion for STEM that will keep them interested?

The Pittsburgh region, which has long been a hub for blending innovations in technology, design and art, is home to three schools that might have an answer.

South Fayette Township Intermediate School in McDonald, PA, which opens its doors this fall, is designed with STEAM (the A is for arts and creativity—an essential component) and project-based learning. The school includes three STEAM labs, spaces with natural light and vegetation for kids to work, and a rooftop garden. One of the STEAM labs is a LEGO-themed robotics center where students build and design with LEGOS.

“We’re really focusing on the engineering and the design of true problem solving,” Principal Greg Wensell told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “You give students an authentic task and ask them to come up with a way to solve it. It’s amazing what they come up with when we give them an open pathway.”

At the STEAM center in Pine-Richland High School in Gibsonia, PA, students take a variety of interdisciplinary classes in chemistry, business, math, art systems engineering, music, robotics, and computer-assisted drafting.

“We needed to leave behind the nostalgia about how things had been done before and embrace the concept of interdiscipline because this is the best way to prepare students for what they will experience in the world and the job market and their daily lives,” school superintendent Mary Bucci told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last February.

Elizabeth Forward High School in Elizabeth, PA, has been selected to join 32 other districts in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, a national coalition of public school districts committed to digital innovation. It’s not the first national recognition the school has received for its success in engaging students in their education.

Elizabeth Forward’s Entertainment Technology Academy, a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, enrolls students in an array of game design courses and offers internships at a game design company.

Elizabeth Forward fosters the creativity and self-directed learning that will take students far in the future. In the EF Media Center, for example, students can learn to use digital media tools to record their own music in a sound studio, or use cameras and green screens in the visual media center. Their SMALLab creates a different kind of “hands-on” learning.

All three schools are taking creative approaches to teaching kids the skills they, and the country, will need when they graduate. With innovators like those in Elizabeth Forward, Pine-Richland High School, South Fayette Township Intermediate School, and many other schools in the area, Pittsburgh employers won’t go wanting for workers.

Published August 27, 2013