High-tech jobs in Minnesota could go unfilledby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota's high-tech industry is worried about a shortage of students going into math and science careers. While jobs in Minnesota's scientific and technical fields are expected to grow by more than 20 percent in the next 10 years, there won't be enough workers to fill those jobs if current trends continue. Several hundred business leaders and educators focused on the problem during a Minnesota High Tech Association conference on Tuesday.
St. Paul, Minn. — For technology companies like Lockheed Martin, the shortage of engineers isn't an abstract problem. Wendy Underwood, who directs the company's communications and networking programs, says Lockheed Martin hired 5 percent of the nation's engineering graduates last year.
"We've got to invest in the future of education to build our own workforce, or we're not going to exist in the future," according to Underwood.
Underwood says Lockheed Martin's Eagan facility adopted a Twin Cities school district, and it now sends mentors into an Eagan elementary school. The company founded "Space Day" to get students excited about space exploration, and a Lockheed Martin employee started "Lego League," a program in which students make robots.
Business leaders say it's going to take efforts like Lockheed Martin's, and innovative approaches in the schools, to fill the future worker pipeline.
Rick King, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Thomson North American Legal, which provides electronic information to the legal industry, says the company struggles to fill its high-tech jobs.
"We have about 150 jobs open at any given time, and I would say half of those jobs are in technical disciplines; they're programming, architecture system administration, data-base administration, those types of jobs. Those jobs are at a premium in the marketplace," King says.
Thomson competes with other Minnesota companies for graduates with high-tech degrees, and often has to recruit workers outside of Minnesota.
King's company paid for 100 teachers to attend the Minnesota High Tech Association conference, because of the company's interest in expanding math and science education in schools. One of the educators who attended is Anna Thompson, who teaches math at Ely Memorial High School. Thompson says she's always trying to find ways to make math interesting for her students.
"Being a math teacher is kind of like being your dentist," Thompson says. "People don't really want to come into your classroom. So if you can do anything to break the traditional mathmatics classroom, and bring in technology from other areas, and people from other areas to talk to your students. You just need something that hooks their attention."
Thompson says some of her students wonder why they need to study algebra. She tells them that algebra trains them to solve problems, a skill they'll need for the jobs of the future.
Thompson believes it's critical that parents encourage their children to do well in math, even if it wasn't their favorite subject when they were in school.
Gov. Pawlenty echoed that importance of parental involvement when he addressed the conference. He says the state can require tougher math and science standards, but the bigger challenge is getting parents and students excited about going into these fields.
"We are utterly behind, even in Minnesota, this challenge of how do you get our society - a society that's focused on entertainment, a society that's focused on things other than the importance of science, technology, engineering and math, engaged in this discussion. We need every employer, every mentor, every community leader, every governor, every president, anybody who's got any audience, whether it's one on one at the watercooler or with a few hundred people in a ballroom, to be championing the importance of this," Pawlenty told the group.
Pawlenty stressed this issue to his niece over the weekend. The governor says he told his niece, an avid hockey player, that she better study math and science, because that's what will matter after she graduates from high school. Research has found that students who take more math in high school are more likely to earn their bachelor's degree, and the number of college math courses a student takes is the single greatest predictor of lifetime earning potential.
- All Things Considered, 04/10/2007, 5:20 p.m.