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Senators introduce bipartisan bill to help women, minorities get STEM jobs

Senators introduce bipartisan bill to help women, minorities get STEM jobs
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Sens. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Lawmakers introduce legislation to boost cybersecurity of local governments, small businesses Senators introduce bipartisan bill to help women, minorities get STEM jobs MORE (D-Nev.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) introduced legislation Thursday that would help small and medium businesses hire and train mid-career professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The bill would provide $50 million in grants to those employers competing for STEM workers, prioritizing businesses looking to hire women, Black and Latino workers and individuals from rural areas.

The measure would fund "returnships," or midcareer internships, for workers who have either left the STEM workforce, or who want to transition into the field. The grants would require such internships to last at least 10 weeks, with access to mentorship and training.

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“Nevada is home to countless innovators, entrepreneurs, and forward-thinking small business owners,” Rosen said in a statement. “However, particularly during our current economic crisis, we must do more to break down the barriers that too many workers face when re-entering or transitioning into the STEM workforce."

Hyde-Smith said the measure would especially help women and minority workers, who not only represent a smaller proportion of the engineering workforce but are more likely to leave the field in times of crisis.

“There are any number of reasons many talented people, particularly women, leave their careers for a period of time. We’re proposing a program to aid reentry into the workforce for underrepresented individuals with STEM-related skills," said Hyde-Smith. "Our measure would help fulfill a need for qualified workers in small and mid-sized businesses that are driving STEM job growth."

Although STEM jobs are among the most well-paid in the economy, women and minorities have traditionally faced cultural and economic barriers to entering the field.

According to a 2018 report by the Pew Research Center, Black and Hispanic workers made up 27 percent of the total U.S. labor force, but only 16 percent of the STEM workforce.

Meanwhile, women make up half of the overall workforce but just 28 percent of STEM positions, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project.

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Additionally, 52 percent of STEM workers say poor access to education is a major factor in the industry's lack of diversity, according to Pew.

Proponents of the legislation said it offers a novel approach to bridge a persistent gap in the workforce.

"This is a very creative way to help solve an important STEM education challenge," said James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition.