Lawmakers eye new programs to boost tech workforce

Lawmakers eye new programs to boost tech workforce
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Lawmakers at a hearing Thursday turned their attention to new programs to help boost the number of science and technology workers in the U.S.

“Fulfilling our STEM research needs ... is essential for economic competitiveness," said House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Greens sue EPA over ‘super-polluting’ truck rule Lawmakers scold NASA for cost overruns MORE (R-Texas) during a hearing on science, tech, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs.

"STEM jobs are growing in every sector of our economy,” he added.

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The Science committee's subcommittee on research and technology heard from educators who highlighted vocational training programs, two-year degrees and community colleges to help fill the gap.

According to the National Science Board, the number of STEM jobs increased by 34 percent over the last decade. Sixteen million of these jobs – including IT specialists and cybersecurity analysts – do not require a bachelor’s degree.

According to a study from the Manufacturing Institute, the technical skills gap could leave up to two million jobs unfilled by 2025.

“[Students are] planning for jobs that either won’t exist when they get out of school, are rapidly evolving, or it’s not within that skill frame where most of the jobs ... would be,” Montez King, executive director of the National Institute of Metalworking Skills, told lawmakers.

Dr. Victor McCrary, a vice president at Morgan State University and a member of the National Science Board's Task Force on the Skilled Technical Workforce, said employers need to rethink hiring practices. He said many employers insist on applicants having a four-year degree, but in many cases proper vocational training can mean a more qualified candidate.

“We also see there’s a stigma associated with community colleges, technical schools and training,” he said. “We need to change that perception and fix our own blind spots and baggage.”

Colleges are also creating innovative new training programs. Some universities, including Wichita State in Kansas, have devoted resources to opening technical schools.

Wichita State’s program will offer shorter training courses and help students get certified, said Dr. John Bardo, president of the university. 

“There are so many people … who want to learn, who want to be a part of the economy, who want to be a part of STEM, but they don’t want to take on a 15-week course or they don’t want to take on a 120-hour degree,” he said.

Bardo said his school's program would open up STEM jobs to single parents and working professionals.

Lawmakers also touted the Code Like a Girl Act, a House bill that encourages girls under 10 to study computer science.

“If we really start working with ... kids at a young age, have them understand these jobs are available ... they can both get into areas [careers] that both pay for themselves as well as really be what we need in the economy,” said Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockDemocrats can kiss swing voters goodbye with progressive ballot The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Dramatic battle looms after Kennedy’s retirement Election Countdown: Kennedy retirement shakes up midterms | Big primary night for progressives | Fallout from Crowley's defeat | Trump flexes his muscles in GOP primaries | The Hill's Latina Leaders spotlights 2018 candidates MORE (R-Va.), the chairwoman of the research and technology subcommittee.

Lawmakers expressed bipartisan support for such efforts.

“China and others are aggressively investing in research and development and in their own STEM resources. Meanwhile we’re tapping the breaks,” said Rep. Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiOcasio-Cortez draws ire from Democrats: ‘Meteors fizz out’ Illinois governor: 'Vote for anybody' but Holocaust-denying Nazi Illinois governor calls on Nazi candidate to drop out of race, breaking with Cruz MORE (D-Ill.). “Now is not the time to be complacent about our standing as an economic leader.”