What is a STEM career? Why is it important to workforce development? These are common questions asked by both students and adults thinking about future careers or job changes. A STEM career is any career enabled by science, technology, engineering, or math may be a STEM career; it is the technician work- ing with algebra in his/her water resources field work, just as it’s the doctoral-level bio-tech researcher.
Just as the STEM acronym may not be readily recognized by many employers and workers, STEM-career awareness is key to ensuring the right leaders and partners are both engaged and benefiting. The workforce clusters of Vermilion County are actively addressing the shortage of students entering STEM-based careers by providing educational enhancement programs to students as early as elementary school and continuing into post-secondary technical internship opportunities.
What companies make up the workforce clusters? There are currently five workforce cluster groups. The groups are education, healthcare, logistics, manufacturing, and technical services. Each cluster is comprised of businesses in Vermilion County who have an invested interest in enhancing Vermilion County’s future workforce. As business leaders they have a sense of responsibility to assist in helping students learn how to apply academic principals by providing resources – such as guest instructors, student internships, and programs focusing math, science, engineering, technology, career exploration and awareness. In addition to being a member of Vermilion Advantage, the workforce clusters support such programs and activities through additional financial contributions which are then offered to Vermilion County schools at no charge. Science, technology, engineering or math impacts each of the individual business in some form.
STEM project based learning opportunities are more costly and time-consuming and therefore, not included in “standard” instruction. This could take the form of mobile engineering laboratories, engineering competitions or workplace learning opportunities. STEM-based programs are not just for the advanced students or a limited population; the programs focus on preparing all students for post-secondary training and work. The workforce clusters focus on the entire talent supply chain. It is important students are introduced to math and science at an early development age in order to develop the foundation for more advanced programs as they advance further in their education.
As a group, all cluster members speak with a single voice to community and education to address only com- mon needs identified by workforce data collection. The STEM-based programs offered to K-16 students de- velop a system to feed the STEM-pipeline and are not a group of disjoined programs. Since 1998, members of the workforce clusters have changed, but the goal has stayed the same. Understanding the dynamics of changing skill needs and opportunities, providing long-term and short-term educational foundations in STEM careers, gathering technology, demographics and job project needs are key tools that aid in implementing systematic changes to respond to current and anticipated workforce challenges in the county. Active participation in the process of change is the key to meeting the county’s workforce challenges. It takes businesses, school districts, community agencies, parents and students working together - creating the future.