Building the STEM workforce Michigan’s future economy needs

A love for engineering instilled by my high school science teacher, Mr. Ming.

That and Michigan’s legacy of technological innovation and manufacturing expertise were exciting draws for a graduate of Kansas State University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering to travel east and start my career journey with Dow Corning.

More than three decades later, as the pace of technological advancement accelerates, opportunities to work in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sectors like the one that was presented to me are multiplying.

Economic and job trends show that STEM careers will play an even more significant role as our economy continues to evolve. Jobs in STEM fields, which had median wages in 2020 more than double that of non-STEM occupations, are expected to grow at almost twice the rate of other jobs in the marketplace. Long-term employment projections show that Michigan will see over 26,000 job openings in STEM fields annually over the next several years.

Opportunities abound not just for scientists and doctors and mechanical engineers but also for those in the skilled trades and other professions. According to the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, nearly 530,000 jobs in high-demand, high-wage fields will be available in the state by 2028.

The challenge we face is not simply job creation. It is equipping young Michiganders with the education and training needed to keep our talent pool even with the pace of innovation.

Preparing tomorrow’s workforce

Michigan is full of dedicated teachers like my Mr. Ming working to prepare our children for the future. Partnering with business, labor, workforce development, philanthropic leaders and state government, our educators are developing new curriculum and learning models to put students on a path to success.

The MiSTEM Network – which unites education, business, labor and community partners across the state – is creating a robust, statewide STEM ecosystem to engage young learners and provide critical thinking skills. It was established by the MiSTEM Advisory Council, a bipartisan panel created in 2015 and tasked by the governor with setting a strategic vision for STEM in Michigan.

Through 16 regional hubs, the network is helping to activate an equitable, high-caliber K-12 STEM curriculum that uniquely provides students with the rigorous content, problem-solving abilities and communication strategies that are essential for work and life beyond high school.

Students are immersed in literacy, numeracy and creativity and can grow these abilities while engaged in real-world activities that are relevant to their lives, communities and career development.

Building a strong economy and sustaining a thriving workforce is a bipartisan goal. The MiSTEM Network was created by the efforts of both Democrats and Republicans to provide high-quality STEM education to every Michigan child and provide them with opportunities for success inside and outside the classroom. As lawmakers and Gov. Whitmer continue to negotiate on state budget priorities, I urge them to continue to make critical investments in STEM education.

Increasing access to STEM learning will continue to enable our students, workers, businesses, communities and even farm kids from other states to come here and capitalize on all the opportunities Michigan holds for future generations.

Christian Velasquez, a retired Dow and Dow Corning executive, is founder and chief strategist for PointsNorth Group LLC and a member of the MiSTEM Advisory Council. He also is a candidate for Michigan State Senate.

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