GUEST COMMENTARY: Hoosiers need to get behind STEM education

2014-04-08T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Hoosiers need to get behind STEM educationBy Kristin Jones
April 08, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Indiana has struggled to recover from the Great Recession.

But jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics have been a bright spot. These STEM jobs grew 4 percent statewide from 2009 through 2012, with all other fields still down 0.1 percent.

Indianapolis has seen the biggest jump, with a 39 percent increase in high-tech employment over that time period.

Obviously, these are the jobs of the future. That's why lawmakers must commit to creating jobs in our high-tech industries and preparing Hoosiers to fill these positions.

The importance of STEM jobs can hardly be overstated. Nationwide, technical workers account for more than 50 percent of America's sustained economic growth.

All the more worrying, then, that America's instructional efforts in STEM are failing to measure up to our global counterparts. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports the United States now ranks among the bottom half of member countries for science and math literacy. 

For years now, industry leaders have been sounding the alarm about the state of the American workforce.

The biopharmaceutical industry, in particular, has a vested interest in kick-starting America's STEM education efforts. A high-skilled talent pool is critical to the sector's continued success developing life-saving therapeutics. In fact, nearly one-third of the bioscience workforce is employed in STEM-related positions — roughly five times the average in other industries.

Over the past five years, STEM education programs sponsored by pharmaceutical companies have reached 1.6 million students and 17,500 teachers across the United States. And these efforts are ramping up.

An estimated 500,000 students and 8,000 teachers participate in industry-led initiatives each year.

But we need to do more to meet the rapidly evolving needs of America's technically advanced industries. Over the next decade, we need 1 million additional STEM graduates nationwide if we want to maintain our position as the world leader in science and technology innovation.

Such a leap will require cooperation between industry and government.

Indiana's leaders understand what is at stake with STEM. The Department of Education, for instance, has partnered with the Lilly Foundation and BioCrossroads to fund and develop the Indiana Science Initiative, which provides principals and teachers in K-8 schools with a hands-on science curriculum.

At the national level, lawmakers have responded with a few targeted efforts. Most notably, President Barack Obama's 2014 budget invests $3.1 billion in STEM education programs.

But the federal government must also work to ensure a fair tax and regulatory climate for life science industries. The burdens placed on the pharmaceutical industry as a result of the Affordable Care Act, for instance, could compromise pharmaceutical companies' ability to grow a skilled workforce and invest in STEM education efforts.

If Indiana is going to prosper, STEM will be the key. We need creative thinking from both policymakers and private-sector firms to cultivate talent for the future.

Kristin Jones is president and CEO of the Indiana Health Industry Forum. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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