What do the aerospace, semiconductor, and audio equipment industries have in common? They’re all part of the advanced industries sector, which the Brookings Institution defines as 50 industries characterized by their “deep involvement” with STEM.
The other element grouping these industries together is the economic opportunity they provide their workers. Brookings’ analysis of advanced industries finds that since 1975, average earnings have increased almost five times as fast as earnings in the overall economy. Plus, the jobs are relatively accessible—more than half of workers hold less than a bachelor’s degree.
So what’s the catch? The industries might be losing their competitive edge in the global economy. Employers are struggling to find qualified workers, especially machinists. And workers are missing an opportunity for well-paid jobs on the cutting edge of technology and manufacturing.
A number of groups in Pittsburgh, including classroom teachers and private sector investors, want that to change. By engaging more kids in hands-on STEM learning, and sparking a love of STEM fields, those groups hope to guide students toward job opportunities in a sector with reliable growth.
“The discussion about advanced manufacturing is really a way to get this next generation of students to think about manufacturing in a more exciting and contemporary way,” said Mary Murrin, who leads the Social Investment Team at Chevron, in the Sprout Fund’s new video.
The video takes a tour of places in Pittsburgh that are introducing students to STEM and manufacturing skills in new ways. The video starts with two new, Chevron-funded FabLabs, one at the Carnegie Science Center and the other at Intermediate Unit 1. These labs let kids and their families build creations with high-tech machinery.
The video then moves to Elizabeth Forward middle school. In 2013, the school combined three classrooms—art, tech ed, and technology—to create an expansive Dream Factory where teachers across subjects collaborate and bring together engineering and art. They guide students through independent projects using laser cutters, 3D printers, and robotics, as well as traditional materials like paint or sculpting compounds.
“This is not a gifted program, and it’s not an afterschool program,” said Todd Keruskin, assistant superintendent of Elizabeth Forward School District. “Every kid is getting this in our school.”
Butler Area Senior High School realized they needed a place for students to explore STEM concepts and get their hands messy. So they built the new Smart Lab, where students can tinker with circuits, robotics, and woodworking tools.
“You can only learn so much in the classroom, but when you get out there and get hands-on experience in a room of virtually endless possibilities, you can do whatever you set your mind to,” said Alex, a senior at Butler Area Senior High, who has learned to build skateboards.
Finally, the Chartiers Valley High School transformed its very traditional shop program into an engineering program where students can earn college credit. The engineering classes pose a problem students need to solve while choosing from a wide array of materials.
As 6th grader Hailey from Elizabeth Forward explained, “When it’s hands on learning, it’s something that you want to do.”