Years ago, students excelling in science, technology, engineering and math -- the so-called STEM fields -- were referred to as geeks and other not-so-flattering terms. But in an updated version of "Revenge of the Nerds," young people with STEM skills are enjoying the last laugh, landing jobs in today's market that are more plentiful and lucrative than those in other fields.
Fortunately, Long Island educators and employers are beginning to make headway in closing the skills gap between jobs that employers can't fill and workers who can't find jobs.
The effort got a significant boost just over a year ago, when 250 educators, government officials, and business, science, tech, engineering and math representatives gathered at Farmingdale State College for the launch of Long Island STEM Hub, an initiative designed to encourage students to pursue STEM education and careers.
One of five hubs launched within the state through the Empire State STEM Network, the effort aims to connect students with the education, real-world training and skills to prepare them for work in the high-tech job market here. Endorsed by the governor's Regional Economic Development Council program, the Long Island STEM Hub received $45,000 in seed money from the Long Island Community Foundation, as well as a $320,000 grant through the Empire State Development Corp. for workforce and education strategies.
The trend is notable. At North Shore-LIJ Health Systems, the largest employer on Long Island, we are facing a shortage of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, specialized lab techs, clinical documentation specialists, electronic medical records coders and other workers because not enough young people have the STEM skills needed for the health care jobs that are in highest demand. A mere 10.2 percent of graduates from our regional colleges and universities receive STEM-related degrees.
North Shore-LIJ began to address this crisis last year by establishing a Center for Workforce Readiness, a school-to-career pipeline that educates students in STEM skills, beginning in high school, continuing in college and delivering them into the workforce. Through the center, we started a partnership with school districts and colleges on Long Island that uses a business plan to recruit the talent we need in the health care field. Through "career academies" that were recently created within several local school districts, young adults get the tools that empower them to explore the entire scope of opportunities that exist.
Health care career academies are already underway in the East Islip, Baldwin and Massapequa school districts, and we're poised to form other partnerships. Students in grades nine through 12 are learning practical applications of health care knowledge. They're doing hands-on projects, taking tours of facilities and speaking to people in the field.
The core strength of the academies is the new three "Rs" that drive the course work: rigorous academics for every level of student; relevancy in learning, with actual industry examples; and relationships between businesses and colleges.
With the Long Island Regional Advisory Council on Higher Education (known as LIRACHE), a consortium of 19 colleges and universities, as well as industry leaders and career counselors, we're designing a plan that connects employment opportunities, industry trends, internships and career access for new graduates and alumni.
Surely, more needs to be done for Long Island to remain regionally and globally significant. Government must provide better-targeted funding for schools and other resources to aid the teaching of STEM subjects. Our schools, from high school to colleges, must engage and excite students about the relevancy of high-tech learning.
Leaders from academia and business need to work together to ensure students have the skills for successful futures and to provide local industry with the kind of workforce that will thrive on Long Island. It's a formula for future success that can be emulated in other industries.
Joseph Cabral is chief human resources officer for the North Shore-LIJ Health System and a member of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council.