Importance of the STEM Jobs Act

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Jobs act, H.R. 6429 was introduced in the House by Rep. Lamar Smith on September 28, 2012 and passed on 11/30 in the house 245 to 139.  Iowa Representatives Braley and Loebsack voted No while King, Latham and Boswell voted in favor.  The bill was referred to the Senate and was read on 12/3 and 12/4/2012.  I spoke with Jens Krogstad of the Des Moines Register on this topic recently, and read the article and accompanying citizen commentary today.  I am disappointed in the direction the article took, as it focused on an individual’s plight instead of the larger problem surrounding the STEM worker shortage.

As the Governor and Lt. Governor of Iowa have outlined via their multi-year, statewide STEM initiative, there is a need for this state to grow the population able to fill open STEM jobs.  A University of Iowa survey in 2012 documented that 61% of Iowans agree that there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill STEM jobs in Iowa (slide 14 of the UNI Study). The Iowa Workforce development projects the need for STEM qualified workforce to grow from 57,830 in 2008 to 67,330 jobs by 2018, especially in the priority economic sectors of bio-science,  information technology, and advanced manufacturing.  These industries are prominently represented by employers large and small – names like DuPont/Pioneer, Monsanto, Rockwell Collins, Vermeer, Pella, and others in all corners of the state.

Our pipeline of homegrown talent, however, is leaking.  Our 8th graders, at the top in 1992 nationally, have fallen to 25th in Math and 13th in Science.  Only 51% of Iowa ACT test takers in 2010 were college math-ready, and only 11% of them were actually interested in a STEM major.   To top off the data, 93% of Iowa’s population growth comes from Latino/Asian/African-american populations who are half as likely to pursue a career in STEM fields than their white counterparts.

So couple the increasing need for workers in our STEM industries (from ~58000 to ~67000) with a decreasing population of potential homegrown STEM workers (STEM-interested high school graduates now at about 4000) , and we have a deficit.  Since it takes at least 22 years to take a newborn through college, and our STEM agenda is working hard to grow the number from K-16 within the 22 year constraint), our deficit will naturally grow over time until we fix our production problem.  The choice is to export the jobs or import the people.

Importing individuals may sound petty and trite, but economically it is a choice.  Without the oceans, mountains, temperate climate, and activities, we know that our government officials’ desire to import new Iowa citizens from the coasts will be minimally fruitful.  So, why not figure out a way to keep talented, STEM-ready, young people here?  BTW, this problem isn’t localized to Iowa – Brad Feld has shared his frustrations via his posts, Vivek Wadhwa through his book, the Immigrant Exodus, and numerous others, our industry titans are hurting for qualified individuals and unable to find them.

That’s what the STEM Jobs Act is designed to do.  The democrat representatives and President I voted for killed that movement to protect a silly diversity lottery.  A lottery that brings people with no eye for what they bring to the country.  More partisan politics that bears little benefit for the country’s citizens.  There is a chance I might get to discuss this with the President himself in a few weeks.  Hopefully I can deliver the message more concisely for political consumption by then.

Please hit your employees in DC to tell them we need the STEM Jobs act.  Here are the links -

Bruce - http://braley.house.gov/contact
Dave – https://loebsack.house.gov/contactform/default.aspx
Barack –  http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

–Tej