How do we ready students for STEM jobs we don’t yet know?
GUEST COLUMN | by Dave Wilson
Engineers are innovators. They love to tinker, design, build and make things. They are inspired and they learn by doing. Our future innovators, today’s students, are no different. They will be solving some of the world’s biggest challenges, designing technologies that will change lives, and inventing things that we can’t even imagine today. However, the world around them is changing at an increasingly quick rate and it is critical to make sure they are prepared for the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs of the future. We must ensure they are prepared for the Internet of Things (IoT).
The IoT is already beginning to infiltrate our day-to-day lives, including our cities, cars, homes, appliances, phones and soon our classrooms.
The IoT promises to make everything smart, connected, multi-functional but increasingly complex. It’s impacting the way future engineers will work, the tools and skills they need, and the products that consumers will demand from them. The IoT is already beginning to infiltrate our day-to-day lives, including our cities, cars, homes, appliances, phones and soon our classrooms.
By 2020, industry analysts predict 50 billion devices will be connected to mobile networks worldwide, but that’s only four years away and just a few billion devices are connected today. That means a lot of engineering innovation is expected to happen. Research shows that the IoT will impact 75 percent of engineers in just three years. The youth we are preparing today will be dealing with the IoT tomorrow, and they’ll need to have the right skill set to handle it.
So how do we prepare students for STEM jobs of the future when we’re not sure what those jobs will look like, due to the IoT?
Classrooms and teachers must be equipped and prepared to provide students with the valuable skills they need for a smarter, more connected world. While textbooks and theory are always going to be fundamental in STEM education, they shouldn’t be the only experience. If today’s students are going to design and build what’s next for the future, they must get inspired, and learn to design and build in school today. Completing hands-on, technology-assisted, exploratory projects – “doing engineering” – gives every student practice solving problems while connecting theories to real-world concepts. Engaging in engineering early and often feeds natural curiosity and a desire to tinker, which inspires more students to pursue STEM majors and careers. For students who do forge a path anywhere along the STEM track, early exposure to engineering makes them more likely to complete their training and become contributors in their workplaces.
We must ensure that industry continues to play a critical role in STEM education. Teachers and students are looking to industry to provide the framework for the types of jobs that will ultimately be required of today’s students. As technology rapidly changes, students must learn above and beyond normal standards to keep up and remain competitive. Engineering and technology companies can leverage their expertise to ensure students are receiving the hands-on, interactive experiences needed to just that. Arming students with industry mentors and giving them guided experiences with industry tools will play an incredibly important role in preparing them for STEM careers in the IoT era.
Students all over the world are experiencing the STEM skills gap. Not only are there not enough skilled workers to fill STEM-related jobs, most also don’t possess the skills needed. This can be narrowed and combatted by greater collaboration between educators and industry. Teachers are often looking to industry leaders to drive forward STEM education initiatives and provide input on what students need to learn in order to be prepared for the flexibility required by the ever-changing technology industry. It’s important for industry experts to work closely with schools and make long-term investments in STEM through ongoing support and mentorship to teachers and students.
The IoT era will be here in full force before we know it and it’s crucial that we prepare students for success through an interactive classroom that includes the innovative tools and curriculum required. With forward thinking now, today’s students will be set up for success tomorrow.
Dave Wilson is VP of Academics at National Instruments, the provider of platform-based systems that enable engineers and scientists to solve the world’s greatest engineering challenges. If you can turn it on, connect it, drive it, or launch it, chances are NI technology helped make it happen. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org