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July 2, 2015

A group of panelists at the U.S. News STEM conference

The U.S. News STEM Solutions National Leadership Conference was held June 29-July 1, 2015 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. The fourth annual conference brought together more than 1,500 stakeholders from all sectors of the national STEM community to address the challenge facing America today—the shortage of skilled workers to fill STEM jobs all over the country. 

San Diego Workforce Partnership CEO Peter Callstrom participated in a conference panel titled “The Job Landscape Today and Tomorrow: The San Diego View.” He was joined by Darryl S. Albertson, Ph.D., Vice President of Human Resources of Cubic Corporation; Ed Hidalgo, Senior Director of Staffing for Qualcomm Incorporated; Brian Edward Alvara, Sr., Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy and moderator Jonathan Horn, Reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. The panel discussed what skills students need most today, tomorrow and well into the future.

Most employers agree that the workforce of tomorrow will need a deep knowledge of computer science, IT, big data, math, and other STEM-related abilities, not just for science and tech jobs, but for all occupations. Such skills are essential for San Diego’s booming biotech and life sciences industry (ranked third largest in the country), as well as other large employers in IT, manufacturing and health care.

The panel agreed that it is vital to introduce STEM jobs early and to encourage in youth, and all job seekers, the importance of lifelong learning.

Lt. Commander Alvara emphasized two key actions—motivate youth in elementary school to consider STEM jobs and give hands-on learning experiences so that they see the real-life applications of STEM fields.

Callstrom also echoed the need to introduce STEM careers in the K-12 educational system. For many youth, they have no concept of what occupations are available and what education and skills are needed to attain those jobs. He said that it is difficult for a youth to aspire to a job that they do not know exists. Awareness is key to filling the skills gap.

Hidalgo added that “we need to teach our kids how to manage their own careers.” He expanded this to include employed adults as well. Employed and unemployed job seekers of all ages need to commit to lifelong learning, keeping their technical skills current to ensure that they are ready to move with the next change in workforce opportunities.

Horn asked those panelists who frequently work directly with youth in hands-on learning environments what the youth say they want from a career. Hidalgo said that when he is talking to kids, money doesn’t typically come up. Youth report intrinsic values such as safety and stability as important to their career choices.

Lt. Commander Alvara said that the youth he works with say they want a job that makes them happy. He suggested that finding a way to demonstrate a connection between the parts of STEM work that also brings enjoyment to youth will help keep them motivated to stay in the STEM fields through college and beyond and lead to a sustainable workforce.

The panel was one of many held during the four-day conference. The STEM community from across the nation had the chance to collaborate, learn and share with experts and advocates who are proactively working to advance the STEM agenda for national change. Particular attention was paid to San Diego and its best practices as the region is viewed as a STEM hub.

Callstrom spoke with KPBS’s Midday Edition earlier in the week about the topic of growing San Diego’s STEM workforce and what SDWP is doing to help train the up-and-coming and existing workforce to fill the needs of STEM employers.

“The more we can do now to invest in young persons, who may or may not be interested in STEM, we give them the opportunity to know what that is all about and what those careers are,” said Callstrom.

The full interview can be heard here.

For more information on the panel, read Prepare: Jobs of the future require lifelong learning in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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