A national strategy for industry investment

With the State of the Union less than a week away, the strength of the U.S. and our competitiveness in the global economy are front and center. We are a nation of invention and discovery, but to retain that global edge, we must have the best and the brightest well-trained minds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

We are falling far behind other countries, as recent data show Shanghai 9th graders rank first in science and math literacy while U.S. students rank in the bottom half of member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  With a projected need for 1 million new STEM workers in the U.S. over the next decade, the private and public sectors must work together to reduce the STEM gap and keep key R&D and manufacturing in the U.S.

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Right now, the U.S. is not supplying the STEM-strong workers high R&D sectors need and the global, knowledge-based economy increasingly demands. A strong talent pool of STEM graduates is vital at every level of the R&D and manufacturing process for the complex, life-saving medicines our companies develop. Nearly one-third of our industry’s manufacturing jobs alone are STEM-related, which is five times higher than in the rest of the economy.

Those STEM jobs help fuel the innovative biopharmaceutical industry’s support for 3.4 million jobs and $789 billion in economic output across the U.S. economy. Yet, not only are we falling behind other countries on a number of key STEM indicators, our public investment in STEM education has also steadily declined at the same time that other countries—including Japan and China as well as Europe—are recognizing that STEM jobs fuel economic growth and are making substantial public investments in STEM.

A new report released recently by Battelle Technology Practice sheds light on what some of America’s biopharmaceutical companies are doing to address the STEM gap.

In addition to financial support for STEM programs --biopharmaceutical companies and their foundations have invested more than $100 million in STEM initiatives since 2008 -- PhRMA members are donating time, equipment and even their labs to get kids excited about science, math, engineering and technology and to improve teacher quality.

We found that more than 4,500 biopharmaceutical industry employees have donated their time to helping educate students about STEM fields, collectively volunteering almost 27,000 hours over the last five years. For example, many companies provide students and teachers with lab and other equipment and curricula assistance allowing students to experience real-world R&D challenges in a real-world setting and offering them valuable insights into potential college and career paths in life science fields.

Improving STEM education is a national imperative if we want to keep high-wage, high-value jobs and their economic contributions here in the U.S.  To remain the world’s engine of discovery and innovation, the U.S. cannot afford to continue to lag behind its global competitors.

Castellani is president and CEO of PhRMA, a trade association representing the pharmaceutical research and biopharmaceutical companies in the United States.