Dec 15, 2016 | Belden Village

The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs will grow 17 percent by 2018. And the growth in STEM jobs will be 55 percent faster than non-STEM jobs over the next 10 years. Although such anticipated growth is encouraging since it supports the theory that a thriving STEM workforce is directly linked to the economic prosperity of the United States, there is still concern: as many as 2.4 million STEM jobs could remain unfilled in the nation by that time.

Is there a solution to help drive our nation's youth into these fast-growing STEM fields and meet the demand for qualified STEM professionals?

According to a new report issued by National PTA, families are the answer.

We know – and decades of research proves – that family engagement is essential to children's achievement, no matter a family's income or socioeconomic background. We also know that families play an important role in helping students navigate educational and career decisions and are influencers of students' perceptions of what's possible for their futures.



Op-Ed: Parents Are Smarter Than Screens

Early childhood is children's best chance to build their foundation for learning, and parents play a critical role.

However, few STEM education programs currently engage families beyond "sign up, pay for, drop off" or "stay and watch" experiences. As a result, many families are unaware of the vast career opportunities in STEM. They also are not equipped to guide their children's educational decisions or career pathways in STEM. This is especially true for underrepresented youth (such as female, minority and low-income students) who aren't finding their way into STEM fields.


In addition to National PTA's report, a recent survey commissioned by Bayer underscores the importance of family engagement to STEM education, as highlighted by these key findings:

  • Parents are most likely to say they play the biggest role in stimulating their child's interest in science (46 percent), followed closely by teachers (44 percent).
  • Nearly one-third (31 percent) of parents don't feel confident enough in their scientific knowledge to help their children engage in hands-on science activities.
  • One-third (32 percent) of teachers say parent support or involvement at home would be most helpful in increasing hands-on science learning experiences.

It is critical that the STEM conversation shifts to include parents and families as important partners in STEM education and career pathways. To increase access to STEM opportunities for all students, families must be intentionally and effectively engaged and be equal partners with all other stakeholders. Engaging families in STEM programs and advocacy will be a demonstrably effective strategy in STEM improvement efforts, especially in closing the gap for underrepresented students in STEM.

To engage and empower families to support student success in STEM and inspire children to pursue STEM careers, National PTA, Bayer and Mathnasium have joined forces to launch STEM Plus Families. The primary thrust behind the initiative is evaluating and sharing effective methods to engage families in STEM experiences at school or at home, in the community and with digital learning environments.

STEM Plus Families is focused on educating parents, caregivers and other family members on ways that they can support their child's STEM learning; offering 100,000 free STEM experiences to families nationwide by 2018; developing and sharing STEM programs that engage families during early childhood years as well as in-school and out-of-school pre-K to grade 12 environments; and empowering families with ways to advocate for access to high-quality STEM education and enrichment opportunities for their children, regardless of ZIP code, ethnicity, race or gender.



Making a Difference for the Underserved

Advocates say after-school programs are key to helping diverse students succeed in STEM.

Through the STEM Plus Families initiative, we are calling on educators, STEM professionals, STEM employers, STEM investors, community organizers and others who share a concern for STEM to help add families to the STEM equation. We want them to develop strategies to engage families in STEM in school and community settings and to share their lessons learned. We encourage them to educate families in their communities about career opportunities available in STEM and about ways to support their students' education and career decisions.


This cannot be a "cookie-cutter" approach or a blanket solution. Instead, it must be "meeting families where they are" and equipping them with the tools to be vessels through which their children are exposed to, engaged in and remain excited about the vast array of STEM career opportunities. Doing so will set our country on the path to long-term STEM success.