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Experts project the American workforce will need a million science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates by 2022. To realize this vision of a diverse workforce, the Congressional Black Caucus held a briefing this week aimed at highlighting the importance and value of blue collar jobs.

“This is the first in a series of events aimed at highlighting the importance and value of blue-collar STEM fields and what it means to include traditionally underrepresented segments of the population,” Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson said. “It is my personal commitment to join my colleagues of the Congressional Black Caucus and others in Congress to ensure that every American has the tools they need to excel in these new fields.”

The discussion was hosted by Technology and Infrastructure Development Task Force co-chairs Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Rep. Val Butler Demings and the Congressional Black Caucus Education and Labor Task Force Co-Chairs: Rep. Danny Davis, Rep. Frederica Wilson, and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman.

Dr. Victor McCrary, vice president for research and development, Morgan State University and a National Science Board Member was on the panel.

Morgan State University, Maryland’s public urban university, produces the largest number of black engineers in the state. The National Science Board governs the National Science Foundation (NSF), the government agency that supports the advancement of science and engineering.

“Both Morgan and the National Science Foundation care deeply about the health of the STEM workforce,” McCrary said. “This includes blue-collar STEM workers, which the National Academies have termed the skilled technical workforce.”

McCrary noted the growing importance and pervasiveness of science and technology in the American economy.

“Recent estimates suggest over 12 percent of all the jobs in the U.S. require skilled technical workers, that’s over 16 million jobs,” McCrary said, adding that more than 11 million jobs from farms to factory floors and everything in between required some college education.

“We all need to be lifelong learners, adapting to a constantly evolving workplace as the cost of 4-year degrees continues to grow in leaps and bounds,” McCrary said.

Programs like the NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) are making a difference.

The ATE focuses on the education of blue-collar workers for high-tech fields that drive the American economy. ATE partners with academic institutions and industry to promote improvement in the education of science and engineering technicians at the undergraduate and secondary school levels.

The ATE program also encourages partnerships with institutions like Morgan State University, Baltimore’s urban university, which support the recruitment, retention of students underrepresented in STEM in technician education programs that award associate degrees.

“ATE does what the NSF does best,” McCrary said.

According to a recent study, students in 2-year programs accounted for 40 percent of undergraduates across all fields of study.

A 2014 analysis of data on community college entrants in 2003–2004 found that about half were enrolled at some time in a STEM field over the following 6 years.

Community colleges offer STEM programs that provide an “on-ramp” to science and engineering study and develop the knowledge and skills required to directly enter the workforce.

“This workforce is vital to the well being of our society and to the economic competitiveness of our nation,” McCrary said. “We should care about this workforce because we live in a global economy where knowledge is king, and in the new world, we should do all we can to make sure that none of us is left behind.”

Other members of the panel spoke on the variety of pathways in STEM for high-skill as well as middle-skill jobs and success stories such as Chicago’s Computer Science for All initiative.

The panel included Dr. Steve McGee, president of The Learning Partnership; Pat Yongpradit, chief academic officer at Code.org; and Jacqueline E. Rodriguez, program associate at Opportunity@Work. The briefing was moderated by Spencer Overton, president of The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“The discussion surrounding the skills necessary to succeed in a 21st-century economy is one that must continue,” said Congresswoman Johnson. “When we discuss opportunities in STEM and the future of our workforce, the conversation should also be inclusive of those who have chosen to pursue a two-year degree or vocational training. Every person deserves the opportunity to participate in our economy.”

The 2017 Budget prioritized three major areas for investment to support STEM education for all students:

• Expanding access to rigorous STEM courses

• Improving STEM teaching and supporting active learning

• Overcoming stereotypes and expanding opportunities for all students in STEM, including through a comprehensive NSF effort that will invest $16 million to support alliances and backbone organizations dedicated to increasing diversity and successfully engaging traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM.

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