The next president of the United States should be very concerned about the country’s ability to attract and retain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers if the U.S. is to remain a leader in a global, information-based economy, say chief executives of America’s leading companies.
One way to counter this talent crisis, they say, is to build a diverse STEM pipeline beginning at the earliest levels of education. And while they believe they and other companies have a responsibility to support such a diverse pipeline, they also say the current American education system is failing to engage girls and minorities to pursue STEM careers.
These are among the findings of a new survey commissioned by Bayer Corp. as part of its "Making Science Make Sense" initiative. Senior executives leading some of the country’s largest chemical, pharmaceutical, aerospace, semiconductor, and other STEM industry companies were polled about a host of issues related to STEM education and the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the STEM fields.
"What is most dramatic about this survey is the extent to which the Fortune  executives speak with one unequivocal voice on these issues," said Attila Molnar, president and CEO of Bayer Corp. "Almost without exception, they overwhelmingly recognize this country’s great need to tap the potential of the entire STEM talent pool, and the importance of doing so at every point on the development continuum–beginning in elementary school with high-quality, hands-on, inquiry-based science education, through college where STEM talent is refined and recruited, and then into the workplace where it must be further nurtured and encouraged."
Nearly all of the executives surveyed (95 percent) said they’re concerned the U.S. is in danger of losing its position as a global leader in science and technology owing to a shortage of STEM talent, with more than half (55 percent) reporting their companies are already experiencing such a shortage.
When it comes to rising international competition, two-thirds (68 percent) are concerned that other countries’ increasing access to STEM talent is giving rival companies based in these countries a competitive advantage over them, with one-fifth (20 percent) saying they are "very concerned."
Further, they think these are issues the U.S. presidential candidates should be concerned about. In fact, nearly all (98 percent) believe the state of the country’s STEM workforce should be a major issue for the U.S. presidential candidates, with two-thirds (68 percent) saying the candidates should be very concerned.
Diversifying the STEM talent pool is one solution to this problem, the Fortune executives say. Nearly nine in 10 (89 percent) agree that bringing more women and minorities into STEM fields will help solve this issue. Moreover, diversity has other benefits for STEM companies, according to those surveyed–such as boosting innovation by bringing new perspectives into the fold.
Currently, underrepresentation is prevalent in the STEM fields. Eighty-nine percent of executives surveyed acknowledge it exists in their industry, with a similar number (82 percent) saying it exists in their own companies.
Not surprisingly, nearly all survey respondents (98 percent) say it’s important for girls and minorities to receive a strong science and math education beginning in elementary school in order to reduce their underrepresentation in STEM fields, with 90 percent saying this is very important. And the most effective way for these students to learn science, 87 percent of executives say, is through a hands-on, inquiry-based approach.
However, they believe the U.S. education system is falling short here. Not one of the executives surveyed gave the United States an "A" when asked how good a job the nation’s K-12 education system is doing in engaging and encouraging girls and minorities to pursue STEM careers. In fact, 55 percent assigned it a failing grade of D or F.
The country’s higher-education system fares somewhat better for its ability to train women and minorities for STEM careers, with executives assigning it an average grade of "C+." Overall, the U.S. education system gets a "C" from executives for providing U.S. companies with diverse, talented, and skilled STEM graduates.
"To successfully develop a diverse STEM workforce, we have to begin at the beginning," said Mae C. Jemison, the nation’s first African-American female astronaut and Bayer’s national Making Science Make Sense spokesperson.
"We must build a robust STEM pipeline that includes everyone and equally values their ideas, creativity, and potential. Are we succeeding here? The Fortune executives are pretty unanimous in their belief that, at the pre-college level, no, we’re not there yet."
Company executives overwhelmingly say they, too, have a role to play in ensuring that women and minorities enter and succeed in science and engineering fields.
Nearly nine in 10 (87 percent) say their companies or employees participate in pre-college education programs that attract, encourage, and sustain girls’ and minority students’ interest in math and science. But communication is one area where executives see room for their own improvement: Only half (54 percent) say their companies are effectively communicating the message to today’s students that there are many job opportunities available for them in STEM-related fields.
Making Science Make Sense (MSMS) is a Bayer initiative that aims to advance science literacy through hands-on, inquiry-based science education, employee volunteerism, and a public education campaign. Currently, 12 Bayer sites around the country operate local MSMS programs, the company says.