Originally posted in the Washington Post on 2/18/12: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-small-business/subsidies-needed-to-jump-start-on-the-job-stem-training/2012/02/16/gIQAx0mhLR_story.html
Subsidies Needed to Jump Start On-the-Job STEM Training
By Elisa Miller-Out
Job opportunities abound for young people trained in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. Yet those of us who run high-tech companies can’t seem to find enough skilled young people.
The difficulty stems, ahem, from the fact that neither a K-12 nor university education adequately prepares young people for technical jobs. Even top universities have trouble keeping up with technological change. Their curriculum often lags in covering the skills that students need for the jobs that are available now.
So what is needed to prepare young people for high-tech careers? We need a combination of community-based programs, internships and apprenticeships, incubator programs and supportive government policies.
Businesses and nonprofits should be incentivized to create community-based, accessible workshops and training programs. These non-traditional programs can move and adapt quickly, teaching technologies such as Ruby on Rails (a Web programming language and framework that’s popular in the growing tech start-up world), and allowing people of all ages to learn skills that will allow them to take advantage of high-paying technology jobs.
In addition to community-training programs, internships and apprenticeships provide some of the best ways to learn new technologies and gain practical engineering skills. Many employers would gladly increase their talent pipeline by offering more internship opportunities. However, these programs require major sacrifices from busy small business owners and their staff because of the training and mentoring that interns require. Utilizing internships as an entry-point to STEM jobs is also a challenge to many workers who struggle with the fact that internships tend to be unpaid or low-paying. An increase in on-the-job training programs that offer grants and subsidies to employers and/or interns could significantly increase the availability of and access to these jobs.
Accelerator and incubator programs are popping up all over the country to help young people who can’t get internships to learn the skills they need to go into STEM jobs. These programs give budding entrepreneurs the mentors, peer support and training they need to launch successful tech businesses and create jobs in their communities. These programs provide a supportive space for learning valuable STEM skills. Similar to community programs and on-the-job training, these entrepreneurial training programs could be more accessible to more students through strategic public-private partnerships.
Companies like mine, and other members of the American Sustainable Business Council, aim to do good in the world while returning a profit to our investors. Recently, we adopted a new legal structure for our business called a “Benefit Corporation” which makes it easier for us to pursue both private profit and public benefit and to keep the two goals in balance. This new legal structure, which recently became an option for companies in states such as New York, California and Maryland, has the potential to revolutionize how business is done. It will help businesses make the investments in workforce training that are required to build employees’ skills in STEM.
With government and community support for STEM training programs, we can create a skilled and talented workforce of young people who are ready to seize the job opportunities available in the fastest growing sectors of our economy. In the process, we can build a healthier, more sustainable economy and a vibrant STEM community.
Elisa Miller-Out is chief executive of Singlebrook Technology, a Web and mobile development firm based in Ithaca, N.Y.