by Dean Zerbe, Former Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee; alliantgroup National Managing Director
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States across the country continue to struggle with staggering teacher shortages, and summer vacation is quickly coming to an end with a new school year upon us. Trying to find qualified candidates is a challenge for school districts nationwide, especially in STEM subjects, and this shortage will not only impact the youth of today, but it will impact tech companies for years to come.
Fortunately, the private sector can step in now to prevent the long-term ripple effects these shortages will have on the tech industry by investing critical resources into their local education departments and funding essential programs.
‘…the private sector can step in now to prevent the long-term ripple effects these shortages will have on the tech industry by investing critical resources into their local education departments…’
STEM is taking a hit
Public, charter and private schools are certainly facing challenges. In 2021, at least 96.5% of school districts across Indiana alone reported teacher shortages. To add to that, more than half of school districts across the nation struggled to recruit and retain STEM teachers – something that will only grow worse as the number of STEM teaching degrees continue to decline.
Complex subjects like science, math, and engineering also require additional tools and one-on-one attention that over-crowded classrooms, condensed courses, and shallow budgets simply won’t accommodate. Tech companies lending additional support could fill the gaps that are necessary to ready students for the next step of their tech careers.
The tech talent pipeline is at risk
The U.S has a history of producing less STEM graduates than other global tech forces like China and India. According to a recent White House report, over the past 15 years the U.S. has produced only 10% of the world’s science and engineering grads, but with shortages dragging on, that number can very well go down.
Not only will this affect America’s ability to compete with China for new tech developments, but also the talent pool needed to fill the growing number of tech jobs. The U.S is already struggling to fill tech positions, taking an average of 78 days to fill one role compared to 41 for non-tech roles. With higher turnover rates than ever before, the tech industry can’t risk an empty pipeline of talent for years to come.
We’ll also see issues like a less diverse workforce who won’t be able to offer a robust assortment of ideas, slowing down a company’s innovation. While the U.S. looks for foreign STEM talent to supplement our domestic workforce, this unsustainable approach won’t be enough to provide the long-term solution companies need to remain stable and competitive.
How the private sector can help
This problem won’t self-correct. Businesses can step in and make their investments in an untraditional way while still generating an invaluable ROI.
The biggest step businesses can take is to provide students with the resources and funding they need and aren’t currently receiving. After school programs are a great start and will give students both a collaborative environment and the individual attention they need to develop their passion for a specific subject. Afterschool programs, even at the high school level, have positively impacted STEM motivation and involvement for many years. My personal favorite is to have the company sponsor the local school robotics team in robot war competitions.
Mentorship programs are another great opportunity for businesses to get involved in a more hands-on way while providing students with critical guidance – something many students need to navigate the complexities of STEM. Pairing students with strong and experienced leaders will foster inspiration and confidence in transforming a passion into a career.
To ensure this involvement translates to higher education and beyond, scholarships are a significant and sure-fire way businesses can guarantee students pursue STEM careers later down the line. This also increases the likelihood of students to work for that same company after graduation, providing businesses with a steady pipeline of future talent.
Businesses can also provide the tangible resources needed for STEM courses, which are often not available in schools or lower income households. One study found a quarter of lower-income teens don’t even have access to a home computer. Supplementing the school’s resources with quality tools will expose more students to STEM material and allow for quicker progression.
High school and college students are faced with the unique challenge of choosing their career path quite early on, and it’s essential for them to receive the proper tools, education, and care they need to make an autonomous decision. It’s crucial that businesses invest much-needed resources into their local school districts to combat this issue and guarantee a powerful pipeline of strong STEM candidates for their future hiring needs.
About the Author
Dean Zerbe is alliantgroup’s National Managing Director based in the firm’s Washington D.C. office. Prior to joining alliantgroup, Mr. Zerbe was Senior Counsel and Tax Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. He worked closely with then-Chairman and current Ranking Member of the Finance Committee, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), on tax legislation. During his tenure on the Finance Committee, Mr. Zerbe was intimately involved with nearly every major piece of tax legislation that was signed into law – including the 2001 and 2003 tax reconciliation bills, the JOBS bill in 2004 (corporate tax reform), and the Pension Protection Act. Mr. Zerbe is a frequent speaker and author on the outlook for short-term and long-term changes in tax policy, as well as ways accounting firms can help their clients lower their tax bill. He holds an LL.M. in Taxation from NYU and a J.D. from George Mason University.