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Why the Push for STEM
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The local economy is slowly getting better. Statistically that is true, although many people think the economy is still in the tank. They have a point. Analysis suggests that the recovery is about 40 percent at this point. That is significant, but for many people the recovery has yet to appear at their doorstep.

One of the reasons is the recovery and the national economy is bifurcating. Some population segments and industries are seeing the recovery and others are not. The greatest recession in decades has made its mark on the fabric of our country, and on our county.

Those segments that are advancing are high tech companies, firms using high tech to create other products, the IT industry, healthcare and innovation research firms.

The sectors that are being left behind are the traditional trades, low skilled jobs, non-tech sectors and some services. Within that context, education must learn to adapt for a future this recession has left us with. Currently one in five of all jobs requires having high levels of math, science and engineering.

It is estimated that in Georgia there are right now about 218,000 technical jobs that need to be filled. These jobs provide for immediate employment. Sixty-two percent of those jobs require a college education or a post-secondary degree with majors in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math - STEM. That works out to approximately 135,000 jobs.

The problem is there are very few students that seek out, much less graduate, with STEM degrees.

So the unemployment of high school and even college graduates remains high because they in reality do not have the skills being sought.

High Tech businesses in turn cannot accelerate the recovery because they cannot find the right workers. This is what we call a throughput problem.

There are about 1.6 million K-12 students in the entire state of Georgia. For every 100 ninth graders, 67 graduate from high school. Twenty-four of those go on to college and 13 enter technical colleges. After their first year, 16 survive the intensity of college and eight survive technical college.

In the end, only six students graduate out of the 24 that started college.

Only three of the 13 graduate from technical school.

Out of that small group that does graduate, only three have STEM degrees or skills. With those results, to fill the 135,000 jobs would require the State of Georgia to have 7.5 million ninth graders. Not total students -- 7.5 million ninth graders.

Where are the jobs of the future? Why can't our young people get jobs?

The future is in STEM.

Our country is in a race to maintain a technological and innovation lead against other countries. Graduates from universities like Georgia Tech and the University of North Georgia will tell you that the pace of technology is moving so fast the things they are taught their first year are obsolete four years later when they are looking for jobs.

Imagine what it is like for high school graduates just entering college that have been taught K-12 Science and Math from textbooks that are 20 years old. Textbooks themselves are rapidly becoming the way of the past as Digital Learning gains momentum.

Across this country a major push for more and better STEM classes is being made. Here in Georgia there are dedicated groups and agencies that are working to improve STEM courses and to get school systems, students and parents interested in STEM professions.

The jobs are there and they will continue to be there.

Many claim there is no funding for STEM expansion or revamping curriculum. Yet funding has to provide now for unemployment benefits for the thousands of Georgians lost in the wake of the recession.

In Dawson County that cost equaled $1.5 million in 2012 alone. The real question is can we continue to afford not expanding our K-12 STEM programs?

Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.