South Carolina STEM Education Needs Prioritization

December 15, 2014

SCCMS LogoSealevel strives to be an integrated part of both the Liberty and South Carolina community, and a key component of that involvement is our commitment to giving back, particularly in the realm of education. From hosting school field trips at our Liberty, SC, facility to donating 3D printers to area schools, we’re dedicated to helping South Carolina students see and be excited by a robust education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

About half of our employee’s jobs require STEM skills, including our computer hardware engineers, mechanical engineers, technical support and manufacturing engineers, to name some examples. Because it’s so important to us, our CEO, Tom O’Hanlan, is the Forum Chairman for Manufacturers Caring for Pickens County (MCPC), a local group of business leaders who focus on Pickens County improvements such as better STEM education.

Why STEM? Our future economic success is tied to technology, but the country as a whole, including South Carolina, is faltering to meet the demand for professionals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries. According to South Carolina’s STEM Report Card for 2014, the state will have 85,000 STEM jobs to fill by 2018, with the majority falling into either Computer and Mathematical Science or Engineers and Technicians categories.

According to a 2014 report compiled by the SC Department of Employment & Workforce Business Intelligence Department, last year college students in South Carolina obtained 14,400 STEM degrees, while job advertisements for STEM occupations totaled 38,172. Specifically, the shortage can be seen in engineering, information technology, and math. The report projects that, based on high school seniors’ planned college degrees, by 2022 the state will have 42,000 fewer STEM employees than jobs, with a 13.6% deficit in the health science sector. Another forecast by USC predicts that, by 2030, South Carolina could be 114,000 STEM workers short of what will be needed. That means companies like ours who value technological innovation will have a harder time finding qualified employees.

If that sounds bleak, consider that current high school students don’t seem interested in STEM degrees. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the percentage of national high school seniors proficient and interested in STEM subjects is very low: 16 percent. But some South Carolina colleges, like Clemson and the University of South Carolina, are working to address this. They, along with other technical colleges in the area, offer special STEM programs and scholarships to help recruit both students and qualified teachers. They recognize, as do we, that it’s crucial to inspire a love for and excitement around math and science.

Our state is also working to improve the outlook for STEM jobs. South Carolina holds an annual Summit on STEM Education managed by South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics and Science to share progress and make recommendations, and both the Upstate and Lowcountry are trying to increase student interest in STEM degrees. Local businesses are helping too. For example, in late 2013, Bosch donated enough equipment and money for Greenville Tech to open a new mobile hydraulic lab. It’s these types of local business initiatives that can ultimately make a difference in our community, and that’s what we strive for.

As for our country as a whole, 2015’s national budget proposal included $170 million for STEM education efforts. It remains to be seen what effect national initiatives will have. In the meantime, we hope that our local technology-minded businesses will reach out to schools and help children understand the value and, dare we say, the fun of learning about science, technology, engineering, and math.