The National Defense Industrial Association has focused on a growing challenge in the United States: The country is not graduating enough science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers to meet demand.
Because maintaining a highly skilled U.S. aerospace, defense and homeland security work force is critical to the nation’s security and economic strength, NDIA has searched for ways to head off that shortage.
It recently stood up a STEM Workforce Division whose goal is to increase the supply of quality, clearable STEM workers. The association is leveraging the resources of its members, working in conjunction with government, partnering with educational organizations and accelerating the growth of proven initiatives.
The National Business Roundtable projects an annual need of 400,000 college graduates in STEM if the United States is to be competitive in the global marketplace. Currently, the nation is graduating 265,000 in these disciplines. The ramifications of these dire statistics on the defense industry and its mission cast an urgent and alarming call to action.
Project Lead The Way is a national STEM education program offering rigorous and relevant curriculum and teacher training in engineering and biomedical sciences. Its mission is to increase the quality, quantity and diversity of the nation’s future STEM work force. A 501 C-3 not-for-profit company, it currently boasts programs in almost 3,000 middle schools and high schools in all 50 states and continues to grow annually. There are approximately 250,000 students currently taking its courses. By 2012 the organization seeks to be in 10,000 schools with 1 million students.
The goals of program include:
• Increasing the number of young people who pursue science, engineering, and engineering technology programs requiring a four or two-year college degree;
• Providing equitable and inclusive opportunities for all academically qualified students without regard to gender or ethnic origin;
• Reducing the future college attrition rate with four and two-year science, engineering, and engineering technology programs;
• And preparing and motivating students in STEM studies and careers.
When taught in combination with mathematics and science courses at the middle and high school levels, students are introduced to the scope, rigor and disciplines of science, engineering and technology. The instructional approach is project- and problem-based learning, which allows students to apply science and mathematics concepts in engineering and biomedical science contexts, and solving problems in predictable and unpredictable real-world situations.
Many NDIA member companies are involved with PLTW. For example, Lockheed Martin provides financial and mentorship support to 10 PLTW high schools in Lockheed Martin plant communities through grants, and also encourages personnel to serve on school PLTW partnership teams. This is all part of its “Engineers in the Classroom” initiative.
Another company, Rockwell Automation, provides funding for several PLTW schools in Milwaukee and Cleveland, as well as mentors for classrooms. Rockwell Automation, like all NDIA companies, is committed to increasing minority student participation in engineering, which is a PLTW goal.
The program is seeing success. Emerging research on PLTW impact indicates that its alumni elect STEM majors in college at a rate five times greater than the national average, are retained in these majors at a rate twice the national average and academically outperform non-PLTW students at both the secondary and post-secondary levels.
Through NDIA’s support, PLTW and its higher education partners are working with member companies to provide a work force pipeline directly impacting the shortage of students and qualified scientists, technicians and engineers that are qualified and eligible to work for the defense industry.
For more information on Project Lead The Way, go to www.pltw.org.
Edward M. Swallow is chairman of the NDIA STEM Workforce Division and vice president of strategic capture and proposal at Northrop Grumman Information Systems.