Column: Ignite more interest in STEM

Tel Ganesan

We must get American young people interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. The economic stability and growth of the nation is hindered — and is at risk of weakening — due to combined problems in STEM industries, which include:

The current lack of quality U.S.-born candidates to fill too many vacant STEM jobs;

The current demise of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, in which approximately 800,000 individuals born in the U.S. to undocumented parents could face deportation. This includes young adult Dreamers under the age of 30 who have majored in STEM fields and are currently working in the industry. These important filled jobs help the U.S. stay competitive in a global economy;

Too few H1-B visas permitted annually which allow foreign- born STEM experts into the country for work;

Lack of interest in STEM courses from K-12 students;

Lack of advice from counselors in secondary schools to encourage students to pursue STEM majors.

Job security and livable wages for employees as well as the nation’s strong economic health rely heavily on STEM fields. Yet for many U.S.-born youths, liberal arts and sports are top educational interests. The reality, albeit unappealing to the way we like to dream, is that not everyone can be a celebrity or poet. There can be only one Michael Jordan. Only one Oprah. Only one Charles Wright, Lena Dunham or Anderson Cooper. However, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs of vacancies in STEM fields, many of which pay well over six figures.

Over the next decade the U.S. will need more than 800,000 additional STEM professionals. We are also at risk to lose hundreds of thousands of current workers in other fields if the repeal of DACA leads to deportations. STEM fields are projected to play a key role in U.S. economic growth, with those fields expected to grow 37 percent faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. Until a U.S. STEM curriculum is created that will grab the attention of elementary school children and nurture them into the most qualified STEM adult candidates, we will still need foreign-born candidates to fill these rolls.

In the meantime, the entire U.S., and Michigan specifically, relies upon immigrant populations to fill these roles. Despite making up 6.5 percent of Michigan’s population, immigrants represented 15.3 percent of all STEM workers in the state in 2014.

What’s more, 40-70 percent of all the graduate students in America in key STEM fields are international students. These students and employees must be encouraged and welcomed to stay with open arms.

Immigrants have particularly contributed to development in emerging technological fields, producing 87 percent of patents in semiconductor engineering and 79 percent of patents in pharmaceuticals. These are further reasons as to why our nation’s strength relies too heavily on the H1-B visa system. Immigration policies and our educational system should support and be a catalyst for creating disruptive, ground-breaking technologies that improve the world and keep the U.S. on the cutting edge in these fields.

Tel Ganesan is CEO and president of Kyyba.