Lawmakers passed 3 bills aimed at providing more opportunities for people wanting to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Both the government and private sector struggle to fill STEM positions but this bipartisan legislation would support education and training initiatives for women, veterans, and other groups who are generally underrepresented in STEM fields.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, wrote, “The size and skill of our STEM workforce will be the most important determinant of our global economic competitiveness for decades to come. Unfortunately, the U.S. is near the bottom of developed nations in STEM education.”
The STEM Research and Education Effectiveness and Transparency Act, passed December 18, 2017, requires the National Science Foundation to fill in Congress on its efforts to get more women and other underrepresented groups to participate in federal research and education programs. It also mandates science agencies collect, analyze, and report data on the effectiveness of research and development grants to universities and federal laboratories.
The second bill, Women in Aerospace Education Act, would help bring more women into fellowship programs at NASA and national laboratories.
Finally, the Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act aims to open more opportunities for veterans to pursue jobs in STEM.
These 3 bills came as part of the congressional ‘science day”, which Smith organized. The day is supposed to “highlight the importance of research and discovery today and every day.” All 3 have been referred to the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
The Labor Department predicted roughly 2.5 million STEM-related positions would go unfulfilled in 2018. Smith thinks it’s crucial for the government to ensure funding for STEM training and education are spent as efficiently as possible.
The talent gap in these positions is particularly noticeable regarding age and gender. In September 2017, men held more than 72% of government IT positions, per the Office of Personnel Management. There is also roughly 4 ½ times the amount of IT specialists over age 60 than there are under 30.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) has started to notice the importance of filling these positions. “Bringing in digital natives and people that have been trained in the latest, greatest tactics, techniques, and procedures…that’s valuable.”