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 SmithEPA proposal will hobble good science and harm American families Pruitt signs proposed rule to erase 'secret science' from EPA Overnight Tech: Dem presses FTC for tougher rules on Facebook data | Poll: Americans want more regs on tech | DOJ reportedly looking into AT&T, Verizon collusion | Twitter bans Kaspersky ads 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 ComstockPath to Dem majority lies in well-educated districts Biz group launches bus tour to promote GOP tax law GOP fears primary fight will ruin Va. Senate chances 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 LipinskiPelosi rejects litmus test on abortion How much collateral damage will there be in the 2018 midterms? Five lawmakers facing tough primary races MORE (D-Ill.). “Now is not the time to be complacent about our standing as an economic leader.”