Gov. Terry Branstad believes Iowa's educational system has not been adequately preparing today's youth to be competitive in the workforce.
Although Iowa's unemployment rate, at about 5 percent, is lower than the national rate, jobs in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) continually go unfilled, he said.
The governor, along with Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, co-chair of the STEM advisory council, came to the Emerson Innovation Center Wednesday afternoon to speak about the importance of his $4.7 million STEM initiative.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, left, and Gov. Terry Branstad talk to an audience at Emerson Innovation Center Wednesday afternoon about the governor’s STEM program. The $4.7 million program is a public-private partnership and aims to foster an interest in science, technology, engineering and math in order to prepare youth to fill positions like those at Emerson.
"We have a shared responsibility to allow every student in Iowa to reach their full potential," he said. "This is a key step toward giving all Iowa students a truly world-class education and creating a world-class workforce for our state's future."
He said the effort will help keep innovative companies like Emerson competitive in the marketplace and provide good-paying jobs for tomorrow's workforce.
In the past decade, STEM jobs have seen three times the growth as non-STEM jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
"The overarching goal is boosting student interest and achievement in STEM subjects and promoting STEM economic development in Iowa," Branstad said.
Branstad called on the community to spread the word on the importance of STEM education and encouraged suggestions from the audience.
Focusing on integrating STEM subjects into the curriculum for children as young as elementary aged to help encourage interest as well as provide incentive for teachers who pursue STEM certification are key elements in ensuring the program's success, he said.
With the amount of women and minorities in STEM fields at a less-than-encouraging level, the program also aims to reach out to all students to ensure every student has an opportunity to pursue STEM education and eventual employment if they so choose.
Although many exemplary STEM programs are already in place, Reynolds said, not everyone has access to them.
"We want to make sure that no matter where a student lives, he has access (to STEM programs) as well as great opportunities to be successful," she said.
Reynolds said the STEM program has seen bipartisan support and that the public-private partnership is one that benefits all those involved - teachers willing to teach STEM subjects earn more money and are in higher demand, students get educated in highly competitive fields and businesses are able to fill positions in growing fields with skilled employees.
More than 300 people in the public and private sectors across Iowa comprise six STEM hubs - think tanks aimed to brainstorm ideas for local programs that help foster STEM awareness and interest. Marshalltown's library director, Sarah Rosenblum, is on the north central advisory board.
Reynolds said the program benefits from the lack of legislation tied to it. The governor's office wants continually to re-evaluate the return the state is getting on its investment with measurable benchmarks, Branstad added.
Branstad acknowledged that working with public sector unions may prove to be a challenge, but said that the only way to ensure a bright future for the up-and-coming workforce is to look forward.
"The younger we get them to not be afraid of STEM education, the better it is," said Paul Gregoire, vice president of human resources at Fisher.