Too few Canadian students are focusing on an education in science, technology, engineering and math. That’s bad for the kids, and for our economy.
Fewer than half of Canadian high school graduates complete Grade 12 math and science courses. That’s just one of the headlines in a report released yesterday on the sorry state of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies across the country. Produced by Let’s Talk Science, a national group that promotes STEM learning, the report has recommendations for government, educators, industry leaders and parents.
“It’s a very complicated issue,” said Bonnie Schmidt, president of Let’s Talk Science in an interview with me yesterday. “I don’t think that any one stakeholder can actually fix this. I think this is going to take a national concerted effort in which governments are involved, industry is involved and parents start to realize that by allowing or enabling their kids to drop out, they’re effectively closing the door on 70% of the top jobs that are forecast to come in the next decade.”
That 70% statistic is just one of the numbers that jump off the pages of the report. Some others:
- The job vacancy rate for science-based jobs is about 6%, almost twice that of other occupations (3.6%).
- People who work in a STEM-related job earn 26% more, on average. They’re also less vulnerable to job loss, according to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
- According to the Conference Board of Canada, the country will need a million skilled workers by 2020. Yet in 2011, fewer 25-to-34-year-olds held a trades certificate than did 55-to-64-year-olds. That has the makings of a labour shortage.
Schmidt told me this is “a growing problem.” At a time when economic productivity is lagging and youth unemployment is running about twice the national average, there is good reason to promote STEM education and careers.
“Science and technology drive the economy,” said Schmidt. “They also drive global issues we’re dealing with: health care, agriculture, water, energy and sustainability … If young people are not seeing the relevance or the applicability of what we’re trying to encourage, there are long-term implications. Now is the time to make these changes, to get more people engaged and excited and make sure we’re prepared for the next wave of jobs that are coming.”
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