STEM Series: Unfilled Jobs Due To Lack Of Qualified Workers

The reason? A Lack of Competence In the STEM areas.

"As I traveled around the state last summer on my jobs tour, nothing was more frustrating than a refrain I heard from too many employers. They said, I have job openings, but I can’t find workers in Connecticut with the skills to fill them." - Gov. Malloy
Uma Ramiah
STEM Series: Unfilled Jobs In CT Due To Lack Of Qualified Workers
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STEM Series: Unfilled Jobs In CT Due To Lack Of Qualified Workers

Connecticut’s unemployment rate is still over eight percent. And yet there are industries in the state that cannot find people to fill vacant jobs.

In his State of the State address last week, Governor Malloy told legislators that in many places, Conneticut’s schools are failing to teach students the kinds of skills and knowledge they need.  

"As I traveled around the state last summer on my jobs tour, nothing was more frustrating than a refrain I heard from too many employers. They said, I have job openings, but I can’t find workers in Connecticut with the skills to fill them." 

The reason?  A lack of competence in the STEM areas: Science, technology, engineering and math. Today we begin a special, week-long investigation of the problem, starting with WNPR’s Harriet Jones.  

This is the shopfloor at Peter Paul Electronics in New Britain, a factory that builds solenoid valves. Judy Spreda is the Human Resources manager here. She’s the one who sees new hires, usually high school graduates, come in through the door.   

“They’re very lacking in basic math, they’re lacking in problem solving, they’re lacking in….. the only way I can describe it is, they don’t know how to go to work.”  

She says this company has plenty of work, but increasingly no-one to do it.  

“We have a set-up man in his 70s, we have an assembler who is 76 years old. You know these people are getting ready to retire. And there’s nobody there. So we need to do something quickly.”  

And Peter Paul is typical of many manufacturers in the state. The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology estimates that there are some 1000 unfilled jobs currently available in skilled trades. That’s the picture for employers who need high school graduates. What about those companies looking for college grads with technical skills?  

“I would say it is the most difficult time in over 15 years. It’s just unbelievable. I’ve never seen the lack of qualified people.”  

That’s Mark Richards, who runs a recruitment firm in Shelton called eRichards Consulting. At the end of last year he had more than 40 vacancies from client companies for IT professionals that he could not fill.  

“You have a major trend in this country where kids don’t go for a computer science degree, and don’t see that being a geek is a field they want to go into.” 

So what has happened in this state, the home of Eli Whitney, Frederick Stanley and Igor Sikorsky? Professor David Fearon of Central Connecticut State University says the decline has been decades in the making.

"Right up until 63 or 64, Connecticut was one of those locales that had lots and lots of firsts. The What the heck happened after 62? Where are the people who can create the firsts, and why not here?”  

I’m Diane Orson. Susan Palisano spends a great deal of time pondering that very question… And how to solve it. She’s the director of Education and Training for the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. Palisano says the problem starts early,  way back in elementary school.  

"Our kids actually do well in math and science up until about the fourth grade. We begin a gradual decline and a slope that increases in its angle. And by the time our students are in 12th grade they have fallen woefully behind on a global arena from other students."   

Susan Palma of the Education Connection in Litchfield works with teachers on ways to improve math and science education. She says a fundamental shift needs to take place in American attitudes towards the study of math and science.  

"You never hear someone say, 'I’m not good at reading'. But you often hear that 'I’m not good at math or I was never good at science'. And that has a real impact, the way our culture views mathematics and science."   

Palma says research shows the human brain more easily grasps math concepts than learning to read. But much of the way math is taught leaves kids feeling unengaged. Jack Hammer entered teaching after a career as a computational chemist at a drug discovery company. He’s now a high school chemistry teacher in the Milford public schools.  

"As science teachers, maybe we need to do a better job of communicating the excitement of the process of science. You know when you look at a lot of the science curricula at the high school level we’re telling them a lot about the results of science, but we’re not really getting them engaged in the process of science – doing more scientific thinking. Adopting more habits of mind of a working scientist."

I’m Neena Satija. That’s exactly what Yale University professor Jo Handelsman believes needs to happen at the college level as well. According to a recent report Handelsman helped author for President Obama, if science and math departments can’t retain more college students, the country will face a shortage of a million STEM workers in the next decade.

"In this country, 60 percent of the students who start out as science majors end up in the social sciences and humanities. So clearly, we’re not keeping the people who even initially think they’re interested in science, we’re not keeping them interested.”  

Last year Handelsman founded the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching with the goal of training a new generation of graduate students to become better teachers in the STEM areas. She wants to keep more students in science.  But she also wants students who aren’t ultimately science majors to leave college with a respect for the subject. 

And that, she says could revolutionize attitudes about science and the STEM industry in this country.  



"STEM" is not a BA it is a BS with relevent internships

I am sorry you are having a hard time getting that first job. I too had that problem when I graduated with an engineering degree. It is the experience problem. You cant get a job without experience and you cant get experience without a job. I ended up taking a lowpaying engineer-like job to get relevent experience. By low paying I mean half of what my fellow students with internships got.
Also please dont assume that because you have a BA that most employers will assume that means science. Bachelor of Arts in Biology might be construed as just studying and memorizing piles of terms and concepts with no practical application at all. Highlight what if any real experience you had -- maybe work in a lab or sampling, interviewing you did while getting your BA.

I will never understand what

I will never understand what some kids think while choosing their degree, they would have no problem finding a job if they would go for engineering or science. It looks like everyone wants to become a business man or a lawyer these days, when obviously they could build a great career in other fields as well if they would chose one of the degrees that are demanded on the job market these days.

Recent Grad with a "STEM" Bachelors

I returned to CT (and wanting to remain in CT, if possible) from graduating from a SUNY school, with a BA in Biology and History. Right after graduating, I spent 5 months looking for a job in the STEM field after graduation and sent out over 50 resumes to these "STEM" based companies. Not only it was hard to find a company that just simply wanted a BA, but I sent my resume in for those who needed a masters, which was most life/biological science field.
If we are lacking STEM hires, I'm right here! STILL! Where can I find those job postings? Is it me? Should I go back to school to get that masters? Is my standards too high or too low? Am I'm not innovative enough to find those jobs or create my own business? Is my lack degree in the IT field a disadvantage?
My work ethic has not changed, my ability to learn is still high, and I know I am an asset to any company. What am I doing (did) wrong?

STEM Series: Unfilled Jobs In CT Due To Lack Of Qualified Worker

Bull, In the past 20 years I have designed a number of electronic circuits and motion control systems. I have no formal degree. Employers are looking for people with a doctorate to design a "wheel". I blame the government requirements that require a formal degree rather than experience. I would be happy to send any of these employers my resume and challenge them to discredit my experience.

Unfilled Jobs In CT Due To Lack Of Qualified Workers

A logical direction for this story to develop toward is the problem of flight from the state of all the young talent born and trained here. In North Carolina there is a town called Cary. They refer to it as the Containment Area for Relocated Yankees. Family and my preference for this region is my reason for staying but like everyone else I know I could make a lot more money if I left for Maryland, for example, which is where I perform my Air Force Reserve drills. The BRAC process has threatened and damaged military connected business here, further aggravating the problems in our state.

We have many great schools both public and private from elementary schools to community-technical collages, regional universities, to UConn and Yale. Yet many of Connecticut’s native talent leave. What causes this? How can we deal with this? How are wage and cost of living differences between Connecticut and other places a factor in competing for the talent we create? These are good questions to pursue for more excellent story material.