Tech Executive Sounds Alarm About Need for U.S. Investment in STEM Education

Future American economic competitiveness depends on nation’s ability to engage and train a robust STEM-focused workforce.

Gordon Coburn is the president of Cognizant, a leading provider of information technology, consulting, and business process services, dedicated to helping the world's leading companies build stronger businesses.     
National Journal
Gordon Coburn
Add to Briefcase
Gordon Coburn
March 28, 2014, 12:30 a.m.

For too long now, we have all seen the head­lines be­moan­ing the “skills gap”, the dearth of qual­i­fied U.S. work­ers to fill a fast-grow­ing slate of jobs in sci­ence, tech­no­logy, en­gin­eer­ing and math­em­at­ics (STEM). April 1 will mark the start of this year’s ap­plic­a­tion peri­od for high-skilled for­eign-born work­ers seek­ing U.S. work visas. So many of the world’s tal­en­ted work­ers are ex­pec­ted to ap­ply that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment will stop ac­cept­ing ap­plic­a­tions in a mat­ter of days, if not hours. That’s why Amer­ic­an busi­nesses can no longer ac­cept the status quo. We have an ob­lig­a­tion to foster a pas­sion for STEM edu­ca­tion right here.

Why STEM? The stat­ist­ics are alarm­ing. Only 16 per­cent of U.S. high school seni­ors are con­sidered pro­fi­cient in math­em­at­ics and are also in­ter­ested in a STEM ca­reer, ac­cord­ing to the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment. Even among those who pur­sue STEM courses in col­lege, only about half go on to work in STEM fields. The Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Eco­nom­ic Co­oper­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment’s 2012 Pro­gram for In­ter­na­tion­al Stu­dent As­sess­ment found that 15-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 26th out of 34 OECD coun­tries in math­em­at­ics. In sci­ence, the res­ult was only slightly bet­ter. Even worse, neither of these rank­ings has budged sig­ni­fic­antly over time.

These res­ults are self-de­feat­ing. STEM fields rep­res­ent the jobs of the fu­ture.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics, sci­ence and tech­no­logy-re­lated oc­cu­pa­tions are grow­ing at around twice the rate of the over­all U.S. work­force. Take soft­ware de­velopers — the num­ber of jobs in this field is ex­pec­ted to grow 22 per­cent by 2022, much faster than the 11 per­cent growth an­ti­cip­ated across all oc­cu­pa­tions. And these are avail­able, good-pay­ing jobs.

The me­di­an an­nu­al wage for a soft­ware de­veloper in 2012 was $93,350. Between 2009 and 2012 across the STEM oc­cu­pa­tions, there were 1.9 job open­ings for every un­em­ployed per­son, ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased by Change the Equa­tion, a CEO-led ini­ti­at­ive to drive STEM learn­ing in the U.S. Dur­ing that same peri­od, the broad­er labor-mar­ket situ­ation re­mained far dif­fer­ent. The coun­try’s un­em­ploy­ment rolls in­cluded 3.6 un­em­ployed in­di­vidu­als for each avail­able job.

A Geor­getown Uni­versity Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force ana­lys­is found that by 2018, there will be as many as 2.4 mil­lion job open­ings for STEM oc­cu­pa­tions, with four out of five of these jobs re­quir­ing at least some form of post­sec­ond­ary edu­ca­tion.

In the United States, we’re fail­ing to train our kids to be pro­fi­cient in math and sci­ence. Stu­dents who do take STEM courses of­ten pur­sue dif­fer­ent lines of work and em­ploy­ers need­ing to fill STEM-re­lated jobs are already re­port­ing dif­fi­culty find­ing work­ers. How can we pos­sibly be ex­pec­ted to meet the de­mand for STEM work­ers go­ing for­ward?

As a na­tion we can and must do more. Poli­cy­makers must help cre­ate op­por­tun­it­ies for STEM edu­ca­tion, through fund­ing meas­ures such as the Amer­ica Com­petes Act. The law, first passed in 2007 and reau­thor­ized in 2010, in­ves­ted in in­nov­a­tion and STEM edu­ca­tion, mak­ing Amer­ica more com­pet­it­ive. The coun­try also needs mod­ern­ized im­mig­ra­tion policies, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to “staple” a green card to the dip­lo­mas of for­eign-born stu­dents gradu­at­ing from U.S. uni­versit­ies with ad­vanced STEM de­grees. And private in­dustry cer­tainly must con­trib­ute.

At Cog­niz­ant, we be­lieve deeply in un­leash­ing a de­sire to learn the ne­ces­sary skills to thrive in the rap­idly chan­ging glob­al eco­nomy. That be­lief is at the heart of our “Mak­ing the Fu­ture” edu­ca­tion ini­ti­at­ive, in which Cog­niz­ant has dis­trib­uted more than $5 mil­lion to non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tions across the coun­try sup­port­ing in-school, after-school, and sum­mer pro­grams for chil­dren. Cog­niz­ant re­cently awar­ded 33 new grants to non­profits aim­ing to in­spire the next gen­er­a­tion of Amer­ica’s tech­no­logy lead­ers and en­tre­pren­eurs. The grants will en­able stu­dents — par­tic­u­larly un­der­served minor­it­ies and girls — in 22 states to re­ceive more than 300,000 hours of high-qual­ity STEM edu­ca­tion across a di­verse range of top­ics, in­clud­ing elec­tron­ics, ro­bot­ics, com­puter pro­gram­ming, di­git­al fab­ric­a­tion, 3D print­ing, and wear­able tech­no­logy.

Our STEM edu­ca­tion ef­forts, in­clud­ing our re­cent grant awards and the an­nounce­ment of a $150,000, three-year ini­ti­at­ive at Texas A&M Uni­versity, are some­what self-serving in one re­gard. At the be­gin­ning of this year, Cog­niz­ant also an­nounced plans to hire 10,000 U.S. work­ers over the next three years. We’d love to hire the best and bright­est Amer­ica has to of­fer.

Gor­don Coburn is the pres­id­ent of Cog­niz­ant, a lead­ing pro­vider of in­form­a­tion tech­no­logy, con­sult­ing, and busi­ness-pro­cess ser­vices, ded­ic­ated to help­ing the world’s lead­ing com­pan­ies build stronger busi­nesses. Cog­niz­ant is headquartered in Tea­neck, N.J.


The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic and so­cial im­pacts of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion, par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant to edu­ca­tion, eco­nomy, the work­force and health. Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com. Please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

What We're Following See More »
By a Big Margin, House Passes Defense Bill
1 days ago

The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."

Walden to Chair Energy and Commerce Committee
1 days ago

"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.

Senators Looking to Limit Deportations Under Trump
2 days ago

"Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on legislation that would limit deportations" under President-elect Donald Trump. Leading the effort are Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is also expected to sign on.

Trump Taps Mattis for Defense Secretary
2 days ago

Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as his secretary of defense, according to The Washington Post. Mattis retired from active duty just four years ago, so Congress will have "to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years." The official announcement is likely to come next week.

Senate OKs 10-Year Extension of Iran Sanctions
2 days ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.