Empowering Women in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Is the U.S. workforce ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Experts predict this workforce movement will create game-changing technologies in automation, computer science, advanced robotics, drones and others that will rapidly change how we live and work.
This coming revolution will create STEM jobs that don’t yet exist and new challenges for STEM education.
Looking at future demand, the workforce is facing a deficiency of STEM workers with a significant female talent gap. Right now, women comprise 48 percent of the U.S. workforce but just 24 percent of STEM workers. And according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, women represent less than 30 percent of today’s research and development workforce worldwide.
How to generate new thinking
Companies like Texas Instruments and Johnson & Johnson are proactively engaging in partnerships with the education community to reinvent learning in and out of the classroom, engaging a diverse set of minds — both male and female — to expand their skill sets, generate new thinking and inspire creative solutions. The result is a diverse and creative talent pool of STEM-ready candidates.
Here are a few approaches to consider:
1) Create real-world challenges
Studies show that girls lose interest in STEM in middle school. Yet, middle school is the ideal time for students to explore their passion and think about future careers.
Businesses can partner with schools to create experiences such as robotics education competitions and other events that spark students’ curiosity and exploration in STEM subjects.
For example, Google supports Girl Powered, a global initiative that is increasing girls’ access to and confidence in STEM through workshops at schools and at Google headquarters. At Girl Powered events, boys and girls engage in a range of hands-on projects, from coding and driving robots to building gadgets and tools with recycled materials.
Additionally, the Girl Scouts of America fosters a STEM leadership pipeline through its STEM Center of Excellence, a 92-acre living laboratory just 20 minutes from downtown Dallas, Texas, that teaches girls both the hard and soft skills critical for success in STEM, college and careers.
2) Widen access to robotics education in rural communities
By creating mobile learning units — trailers equipped with robotic playing fields, game elements, monitors, computers and other electronics — schools in remote locations can easily set up their own robotic competitions.
This experience includes training teachers on the fundamentals of robotics with personal coaches and ongoing support for teachers through video and online materials. Businesses can support this mobile learning through school district grants.
3) Create mentoring programs
According to Million Women Mentors, girls with a mentor are two and a half times more likely to be confident in their ability to succeed in school and at work.
Employees who volunteer for these types of roles in their communities are two times more likely to report being engaged at work. Businesses, as Texas Instruments has done, can create employee STEM mentoring programs with schools and robotics clubs in their communities, including conducting visits to STEM school labs and coaching robotics teams.
4) Support programs that teach critical workplace skills
Employers need workers competent in four areas: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creative problem solving.
Businesses can support students by partnering with schools to create experiential learning opportunities — in and out of the classroom — that build and measure students’ capabilities in these areas. The Chamber Foundation has worked with EverFi to implement just such a program called STEM Scholars.
Beyond the examples above, the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation is working right now with education leaders and businesses to practice what we preach and build a collaborative vision for the future of learning that will create the next generation of STEM leaders and job creators. The final vision will be unveiled at the VEX Robotics World Championship, April 24-27, in Louisville, Kentucky.
Technology is rapidly changing how we live and work, from building new drones to inventing robots that perform surgery.
To keep pace with these changes and future challenges, we need to engage both men and women in STEM education that lead to workforce opportunities.
By reinventing learning now, we can provide tools for success and enable an environment where all students’ confidence and skills can flourish. And if we leave women out of this equation, we risk economic growth.
Once we reinvent learning, opportunities will be available to all students who have an interest in STEM. In turn, STEM fields will reflect the diverse world we live in — and the one we want to leave behind for future generations.
This article first appeared on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation blog and was republished with permission.